With the cupboard bare, the Lightning look to restock by trading off some of their high priced vets.
It's over, Lightning fans. I know it, you know it and most importantly Stevie Y knows it. With the Tampa Bay Lightning closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings than the top eight that qualify for the playoffs, the time has come to think about the future.
When Yzerman first arrived on the scene, the organization was poor in depth from the top to bottom, was saddled with bad contracts from the previous regime and had to try to piece together a top heavy roster that could compete with the rest of the league.
The magic worked in 2010-11, where the Lightning played top shelf hockey on special teams and qualified for the playoffs, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals and taking eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston to the brink of elimination.
This season? Not so much. The powerplay has been shockingly horrific, the demise Dwayne Roloson well documented and the psychology of head coach Guy Boucher seems to have lost some of it's luster.
Now it's time to rebuild this organization from bottom up. It's selling time, sending high priced veterans off to playoff contenders who are desperate for that one extra defenseman, forward or specialist to take them "over the hump" and are willing to surrender top quality prospects and picks to get it.
Hockey's Future, a site dedicated to the study of organizational strength of NHL franchises, rates the Lightning 25th out of 30 hockey organizations.
"Strengths: The Lightning have a nice quartet of highly-skilled forward prospects in Brett Connolly, Carter Ashton, Richard Panik, and Vladislav Namestnikov. Radko Gudas and Mark Barberio have a ways to go, but are interesting options on the backend. In goal, Dustin Tokarski is a competitor that has worked his way to success at every level," the site observes, "Weaknesses: The Lightning system is extremely thin with little depth at any position, particularly defense. They have no top-pairing defenders, and only a handful that project as even NHL defensemen. Outside of their forwards, the system has no top-end talent."
I think Connolly and Panik could definitely be top-end for the Lightning while it's too early in the process to know what the Bolts have with Namestnikov. It is hard to argue HF's view of the Bolts' Blue Line and goaltending situation.
In goal, it's perplexing what's happened to former number one draft pick Riku Helenius, who continues to play in Europe. Expected to be "the answer" in goal, Helenius has been anything but, bouncing around the minors in the ECHL, AHL and playing for the Swedish league Elitserien before returning home to play for JYP in the Finnish league SM-liiga.
Adam Wilcox, who is headed to the University of Minnesota, seems to be the Lightning's most promising prospect between the pipes.
Dustin Tokarski seems to be a bit of an enigma. He appears to have the goods to win but for some reason, the Lightning organization doesn't have that belief in him. He might get a late season call up for an extended looksee as he's played well the past two seasons in Norfolk, leading the Admirals to the AHL playoffs.
Jaroslav Janus doesn't seem to be much more than a journeyman or career back up at this point.
Things are worse on defense, where few seem to be NHL quality.
As the trade deadline approaches, the opportunity to stock the cupboard reveals itself.
"We have to look at any opportunity that makes us a stronger organization moving forward based on where we stand today," Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times.
Tampa Bay has already asked 34-yr old veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina to waive his no trade clause (NTC). At nearly $4 million a season and becoming an unrestricted free agent after this season, he's the first logical choice to be moved.
If the Lightning could find a taker for Dwayne Roloson, the deal would be done in a heartbeat - but it's unlikely there will be much interest in the struggling 42 year old netminder.
Forwards Ryan Malone and Dominic Moore have been making the rounds in the rumor circles. If it's the trade deadline, Vincent Lecavalier's name will always pop up, usually connected with the Montreal Canadians. However with the Habs out of the race as well, it doesn't seem that they'd be interested in adding nearly $8 million in cap space to their payroll.
"We are aware of it (the trade deadline)," super sniper Steven Stamkos told TBO.com, "We know this home stand makes the job a lot easier or harder for management if we put ourselves in a position.''
As the Lightning search for some organizational depth, the prospect of a miraculous finish for a playoff run seems to be slim, despite playing 13 of the next 18 on home ice.
"The trade deadline is in a week and a half, roughly," Yzerman told the Times, "So we don't have the luxury of waiting until the end of the season to see if we are going to make the playoffs or not."