When Lightning make moves, it’s with more than a rental in mind

Tampa Bay on Wednesday acquired a 2025 fourth-round pick from Edmonton in a three-team trade that also included Anaheim.
Lightning forward Nick Paul, second from right, celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the St. Louis Blues in December in Tampa.
Lightning forward Nick Paul, second from right, celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the St. Louis Blues in December in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published March 6|Updated March 7

TAMPA — In working the NHL trade deadline, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois typically looks to land players with years remaining on their contracts or who remain under team control as restricted free agents. It’s part of his formula to keep Tampa Bay an annual contender despite the inevitable roster turnover for a team up against the salary cap.

As Friday’s 3 p.m. deadline approaches, there’s no reason to believe BriseBois won’t continue to be aggressive this season.

The market began to heat up Wednesday, with the Lightning acquiring a 2025 fourth-round draft pick from the Oilers in a three-team trade that also included the Ducks. Tampa Bay sent unsigned 2018 seventh-round pick Ty Taylor to Edmonton and took on on 25% of center Adam Henrique’s remaining salary as he moved from Anaheim to Edmonton.

History would indicate a bigger move from BriseBois is on the horizon.

“There’s probably been no one more aggressive than what Julien’s done over the years, and it’s paid off,” said captain Steven Stamkos. “That’s when you get into trouble when you don’t have the championships and you go all-in.

“But with the core that we have here, the window is still open and, you know, as a player you know they obviously have a lot of faith and confidence in you if they’re going out and spending assets to help win. It’s a pretty good feeling as a player.”

Whether it was deals for Blake Coleman or Barclay Goodrow while building a Stanley Cup winner or more recent moves to acquire Brandon Hagel and Tanner Jeannot at the deadline, the trades were done not only to make the Lightning a tougher out in the playoffs, but to keep them competitive in the years beyond.

However, all of those trades required first-round picks to pull off, and the Lightning’s inventory is depleted because of it. Tampa Bay doesn’t have a first-rounder until 2026.

Combine that with a trade-target pool that is heavy with pending unrestricted free agents, and the Lightning might have to settle for a rental as Friday’s deadline nears.

Any move for a pending unrestricted free agent will be made with an eye toward keeping them beyond this season. One advantage the Lightning have had in that regard is being able to sell a pending free agent on sticking around.

The one exception over the past five seasons was David Savard, a pending free-agent defenseman acquired from Columbus for first- and third-round picks in 2021. Savard helped Tampa Bay win its second straight Cup before the Quebec native signed with Montreal the following offseason.

Otherwise, all of BriseBois deadline acquisitions have been more than rentals.

“I think when you get a taste of what it’s like from a living perspective, it’s pretty hard to go anywhere else,” Stamkos said. “The hockey aside, it’s a pretty amazing place to live. There’s a lot of perks that come with playing hockey here. It’s the fan base, it’s the quality of the team, it’s the quality ownership, the coaching staff, the management.

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“Everyone wants to be a part of something that’s been successful. That certainly helps, and Julien has always had a knack for bringing in guys that he intends to be a part of it.”

The Lightning have been able to offer stability. The core group of players mostly has remained the same, Jon Cooper is the NHL’s longest-tenured coach and BriseBois has been in the organization since 2010, first as Steve Yzerman’s assistant GM before taking moving into his current role in 2018.

Playing in Florida has its allures — no state tax and warm winters. For players used to playing in cold weather cities, wearing shorts in the winter and waking up amidst palm trees and beaches isn’t a hard sell.

“Stability and waking up to a sunrise and then going to bed at a sunset every night, that probably helps, too,” Cooper said.

But ultimately, it’s about winning, and the opportunity to compete for a Stanley Cup.

Take, for example, center Nick Paul, who came to the Lightning prior to the 2022 deadline from Ottawa as a pending unrestricted free agent. The Lightning had no guarantees of re-signing Paul, who was in his age-26 season. Extension talks in Ottawa broke down, and Paul became an attractive two-way center with a big body that fit BriseBois’ wish list of a player who would make the Lightning a tougher out in the postseason.

After the Lightning went to their third straight Cup final before losing to Colorado in six games, Paul quickly re-signed a seven-year, $22.05 million deal with a team-friendly $3.15 annual cap hit on the first day of free agency.

“We were that close, and you see the guys in the room and say, ‘Hey, we can do this again, and do it again for a couple years,’” Paul said. “I thought the role that I was playing was good. I felt effective. I felt like I helped the team. And I felt like we had enough to go again. That was a big part of it.

“When you’ve got a team like that and you go so far, you know there’s going to be a couple moves here and there, but for the most part everyone kind of stayed the same and I wanted to be a part of that again,” Paul said. “I still feel like we have the guys in here to get it done. I believe in this team, and I believe in what we can do, especially when you get into playoff mode.”

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