With an unfortunate elimination in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a bright future ahead of them, and have much to build on.
Looking back at the playoffs, it was no surprise that with a young, inexperiences team, the Lightning would have a tough opponent in the Montreal Canadiens. Although I did believe that the Lightning could defeat the Habs, it was bad luck on our end when Ben Bishop was out with an injury. Now, we were faced with the task of eliminating the Canadiens with Anders Lindback, and although he played admirably, the defence was not there to support him; and that should be the focus of the offseason.
Looking at the depth at defence for this squad, it is obvious from the get-go there is not much potential. Slater Koekkoek is most likely the only defensive prospect in the Lightning system that will make the NHL. That becomes a problem, and it needs to be addressed.
In the draft, the Lightning hold two first round selections, and I believe that if these picks are retained, then they should be used to add depth to the back line. Draft two large defencemen and develop them into a bottom pairing duo.
The Lightning did get a bit of defensive surprise this year with the emergence of Victor Hedman. Now, to be clear, Hedman was always a quality defenceman, but this season he exceeded his previous performances and contributed offensively in a huge way. This is good news for the Lightning as Hedman emerges as a true Top 2 defenceman.
The Lightning lack a partner for Hedman; they do not possess a player of quality for a Top 2 position, but they do have a strong second pairing. With 3 players who can easily play the shutdown role, the Lightning are strong on the bottom two pairings. Brewer, Carle and Gudas will all play vitale roles in the shutdown of the leagues best, and will carry a lot of the load on the penalty kill.
Aside from Hedman, the Lightning lack a defenceman who can move the puck with finesse, and control the powerplay. This is where the focus for the Lightning should be this summer: acquire a Top 2 Offensive defenceman.
Now that is easier said than done, but obviously there are potential candidates and options to make this happen. There are 3 courses of action; free agency, trade or draft. Let's look at all the options, starting with the draft.
For the Lightning to get anything worthy of playing in the NHL and being a top pairing defenceman, then they will need to move up in the draft and select Aaron Ekblad. There is no alternative, unless they are able to find a gem hidden in the draft. Now to move up high enough to select Ekblad, I believe the Lightning would need to be in the top 3 selections.
To acquire one of the top 3 selections, you would need to look at what each of those teams desire. Right away we can eliminate any potential deal with the Oilers, because they are also in the market for a defenceman, and they will not get that from the Lightning. Moving on to Buffalo, the answer here is offence and depth. To make a deal happen with Buffalo, it would require both our first rounds picks, Brett Connolly and possibly another prospect. This is a high price, and no guarantee that Florida will not take Ekblad or trade their pick to someone who will.
So it comes to trading for the 1st overall selection, and that is always difficult. Looking at it from the perspective that the Panthers will want roster ready players, prospects and picks, it seems like a far cry for the Lightning. But maybe there is a potential deal here. Same as before starting with both 1st round picks, and Brett Connolly, and now it could come down to roster ready players such as Ryan Malone (unlikely) or Teddy Purcell. This may not even be enough to get the selection from the Panthers, but it is possible to find a deal.
Now looking into free agency, I don't believe there is a solution in this year's group. Unless they go with an offer sheet, there are only veterans in the free agent group, as well as Matt Niskanen, but I do not believe that he is the solution for Tampa.
For offer sheet options, there are a few interesting options. PK Subban tops the list, would be a perfect fit on the team, but would require way too much compensation, and too much cap. Torey Krug from Boston has potential to play that spot and would be a great addition by the Lightning, but again could be a problem of cap, and the Bruins matching any offer made.
Now I do not believe that the Oilers will let Justin Schultz leave on an offer sheet, nor will Anaheim let Sami Vatanen walk for nothing, but an interesting option could be Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. They will be trying to retain Cody Franson, and if they do not trade away Phaneuf, he will be starting his new contract, so it is possible that Gardiner could be offered a contract from the Lightning that the Leafs could not match.
Finally, there is the option of trading, and although most teams will not trade away a top pairing defenceman, I believe there is one that would fit into the team seamlessly, and would not be too difficult to acquire; Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes. It is believed that the Coyotes will be opening the check book this summer to free agents to convince them to join the desert, and clearing some cap on the back end could be necessary. To acquire Yandle, I believe that a 1st round selection, Brett Connolly and a minor prospect can get it done, and the Lightning will have filled a hole on the back end, and can still continue to build with their remaining 1st round selection.
Thanks for reading, leave your comments, and tell me what you would do to fix the Lightning defence.