The Tampa Bay Lightning sits tied for last in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference headed into Monday night’s action, which is not a situation many would have predicted to open the season.
Granted, the standings in the East are tight. The Lightning is also only five points back of a Wild Card spot.
Given Tampa Bay’s track record in recent years though, the lackluster results have still been surprising.
“It’s gone south in a hurry for Stevie Y in Tampa,” as was presented to Elliotte Friedman during a Monday morning appearance on Calgary’s Sportsnet 960.
“Yeah, it sure has,” agreed the NHL Insider. “We have a good setup at our work. In our area where we watch the games we have nine televisions. So you can kind of watch everything at once. On Saturday night, our early games are Montreal and Buffalo and Toronto and Ottawa. But Arizona played Tampa Bay at pretty close to the same time. We were watching that game and we were like, ‘What? What is going on there?’ It was 2-0 Arizona quick. It was 5-1 before – Tampa Bay did look a bit better later. And Bishop was there.
“I think that Doug Armstrong saw a couple of Tampa games last week. Armstrong and Yzerman are tight. I think we’ve been kind of wondering what’s going on there. Could they do a Shattenkirk-Bishop (trade), or is something else cooking.
“One guy told me on the weekend that Tampa may not be as active as everyone thinks because Steve Yzerman could just say, ‘You know what? Our team isn’t good enough. Why would I start to make moves and trade stuff away when our team isn’t good enough.’ So I’m kind of wondering what Yzerman is thinking here.
“The other question to me too is they’ve fallen apart without Stamkos. Do they reasonably believe that Stamkos is coming back. The only guy who knows that is really Yzerman, and probably Stamkos himself, but that injury was pretty serious. It sounds like it was going to be pretty dicey for him to come back in the regular season anyway.
“I wonder if Yzerman is looking at all of this and saying, ‘This is not the year for me to start making trades that sacrifice the future because we just don’t have the team that’s good enough to win.’”
It was just a few weeks ago that Yzerman told Joe Smith of The Tampa Bay Times: “If there was something I could have done to this point that would make our team better, I would have done it. We’ll keep trying.”
Since that time, the Lightning has lost five of its past seven outings and is 2-7-1 overall in January.
Stamkos, incidentally, is expected to return to action sometime in March from his knee injury.
Transitioning from the impact that the Stamkos injury has had on the Lightning, Friedman also mentioned that “their defense has kind of fallen apart. That’s been a big one. Yzerman is looking for a defenseman.”
The sentiment that Yzerman would like to add a Top 4 blueliner has certainly been a common theme for well over a year. We’ve barely seen any deals this season because the NHL trade market has basically been frozen because of both league parity – meaning a lack of defined deadline sellers so far – and salary cap restrictions that have handcuffed a large portion of franchises.
It was a few days after Yzerman’s trade comment that TSN’s Bob McKenzie had mentioned that he didn’t think the general manager would trade Jonathan Drouin.
“But boy oh boy, just about anybody else up front might be a possibility if they could get a defenseman in there that would help them,” surmised McKenzie at the time.
Yzerman recently touched on the subject of whether or not there are any untouchables on his roster.
“We have our core and I want to add to that core,” Yzerman told Joe Smith. “Over time, your core has to change, that’s the reality, you can’t afford to keep everybody. They age, they mature. Are players untouchable? Yes. Because I want to build around the core.
“But at some point, to address needs, if there’s something really good out there, you’re probably going to have to give up something really good in order to do that.”
Just ask Peter Chiarelli.
Monday, Friedman also pointed out that “a lot of weird things have happened. Bishop hasn’t played well.”
“The one thing that you never know is how a person reacts to a lack of contract security,” continued Friedman. “Ben Bishop has always been a really good goalie, and the thing that’s weirdest about it to me for this year is that he’s never had a ton of security. He’s a guy that’s been traded a lot. And he’s always done really well despite it. And now here we are this year, and he doesn’t have a contract. And you know what, he might be costing himself millions the way he’s going right now. And I think there’s something to the fact that he doesn’t have a long term deal. Now all of the sudden he gets hurt, and he does get hurt a bit, and Vasilevskiy hasn’t looked great either. And he’s the guy they want to turn the net over to.
“So I’m sure Yzerman and Tampa and Bishop are all looking at this like, ‘Here’s a variable we didn’t expect – that our goaltending would be a problem.’ Because Bishop doesn’t have job security and all of the sudden he’s struggling. And Vasilevskiy got an extension this year – he’s really got job security – and he’s also struggling. So I’m sure they’re sitting there going, ‘Holy Cow. This isn’t what we were expecting.’”
Friedman has mentioned the notion of a Bishop-for-Shattenkirk swap between the Lightning and Blues several times in the past week, which is a thought that has certainly been floated before.
During Saturday’s Headlines on Hockey Night in Canada, Friedman again mentioned that idea.
He also added: “The one thing I have been told about the Blues is that Doug Armstrong is trying to move money to open up some space to do something.”
There was another Tampa-related note from Friedman in Monday’s radio hit that he’s mentioned before, but is worth passing along in case you haven’t heard it before.
During a large discussion on the Calgary Flames, part of which included the potential future there of Brad Treliving, Friedman was asked if one of the reasons Yzerman never ended up as the general manager of the Flames years ago was because he couldn’t get autonomy there.
“The only one I ever heard that Yzerman took seriously before Tampa was Minnesota,” relayed Friedman. “And that was when Chuck Fletcher was hired. He got interviewed there and I think he was really considering it. I don’t know that Yzerman was ever serious for Calgary.”
For reference: Covering the Insiders