Blog: Yzerman sleeping peacefully on bed of cash

There’s no truth to the rumor that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman got his first good night’s sleep in months last night by laying on a bed of cash – about $5 million worth of that thin green paper.

We like a good story, so we’re going with it. And really, he deserved to sleep on that cash after his latest jedi-like roster moves to keep the future of the Tampa Bay Lightning on course.

To review:

Tampa Bay acquired G Peter Budaj, D Erik Cernak, a 2017 seventh-round draft pick and a 2017 conditional draft pick from Los Angeles for G Ben Bishop and a 2017 fifth-round draft pick.

Acquired F Byron Froese and a conditional 2017 second-round draft pick from Toronto for F Brian Boyle.

Traded C Valtteri Filppula and 2017 fourth- and seventh-round draft picks to Philadelphia for D Mark Streit, who was traded to Pittsburgh for a 2018 fourth-round draft pick.

Let’s face it, unless you’ve been living under a landscaping rock that says “WORLD’S BIGGEST LIGHTENING FAN!!1!” you knew Bishop was on his way out. That writing’s really been on the wall since Vasilevskiy was drafted, but especially after Bishop only got a 2-year contract extension two years ago, then Vasilevskiy got a 3-year extension on July 1 of this year.

One of our site’s purposes is to educate Lightning and Lightening fans alike on the developmental and roster-building processes. As a prospect continues to take each developmental step toward the NHL, eventually he will push out the older and more expensive player. That’s just how it works – especially with goalies, and especially in a cap world.

The Lightning have two players already over $7 million next year in Hedman and Stamkos and they really can’t add a third in Bishop and expect to field a competitive team capable of the Yzerplan, which is to make the playoffs year after year and be deep enough to feed the beast and survive major injuries. Some years will be better than others, but they at least have to give themselves a chance.

Much like the Marty St. Louis deal to the Rangers, Yzerman reportedly was backed into a corner with Bishop as only Los Angeles was listening. Goaltender value is minimal on the open market in a cap world and Yzerman did well to get a quality back-up goaltender and a former second round prospect who should make the NHL in some capacity in the next 2-3 years.

The Kristers Gudlevskis Project started showing cracks last year and when Jon Cooper wouldn’t play Gudlevskis or Adam Wilcox when Bishop was out injured, there was more writing on the wall that a veteran was needed to pair with 88. That vet would have to be able to serve as a mentor as well as be comfortable sitting the bench for a couple weeks at a time. He also needs to be able to take over for weeks or months should there be a major injury. Budaj is perfect in that role, and he only makes $600K. Though he’s an unrestricted free agent at year’s end, it would behoove the Lightning to bring him back on a deal for a million or two, which fits off the ice as well.

Cernak adds to the farm’s weakest position, right-side D. He’s more of the same in that he’s a defense-first player with seemingly limited offense, but he adds insurance in case Matt Spencer and/or Johnny MacLeod don’t pan out as expected. He can look at Jake Dotchin for how to cut a path to the NHL, however, as they’re the same type of player. There is still room for a puck-mover or two on the back line of Syracuse and beyond, but the Lightning’s philosophy is to get puck movement from guys who take care of their own zone first, second, and third.

With Cernak being a prospect coming in, Wilcox was one to go in a rather surprising move on the surface.

Mike McKenna was acquired to give Syracuse a true No. 1, trustable goaltender for the playoffs. McKenna has been in the Lightning organization before and he’s exactly what first-place Syracuse needs. Wilcox’s numbers don’t match the eye test as his .895 save percentage is 38th of 47 qualified goaltenders in the AHL; Gudlevskis, at .885, is 43rd. Wilcox has easily been Syracuse’s No. 1 this year, surpassing Gudlevskis for that role.

Here’s where things get tricky. The Lightning have to have a goalie to expose in the expansion draft and Wilcox doesn’t qualify as he’s too inexperienced; Gudlevskis does. It’s possible Tampa Bay could re-sign McKenna (UFA) to an extension before the e-draft, but that’s the player’s choice and not a sure-thing. Gudlevskis, who is a restricted free agent at season’s end, can get qualified as an RFA by the Lightning, be exposed, then either choose to sign the qualifying offer and stay in the organization or take his hockey bag and go back to Europe. If he’s leaning the Europe route even a little, he has little value on the trade market and likely wouldn’t have been of interest to the Florida organization. He will also require waivers next year, which makes things even more difficult for an acquiring team.

This trade resembles the Tokarski-Desjardins trade a few years ago when the Lightning wanted a better No. 3 in the organization and dealt Tokarski – fresh off a Calder Cup with Norfolk – to Hamilton for Desjardins, who was coached by Guy Boucher the previous season. Tokarski’s upside of an NHL 2/3 is roughly the same as Wilcox, though both are gamers capable of more (as evidenced by Tokarski's run with the Habs).

Syracuse gets a little more goaltending security this year at the expense of what was projected as Vasilevskiy’s future backup in 2-3 years (after speculated Budaj contract, perhaps). Yzerman let it spill in the news conference what we expected – Kamloops goaltending prospect Connor Ingram, who is not signed as of yet, is in the plans for Syracuse next year. Yzerman wants him paired with a veteran, who may be McKenna, Gudlevskis, or someone else. Finding a backup goaltender can be an important task depending on the situation, but most times is relatively smooth. Wilcox is a good guy and a goalie who’s better than his numbers and we wish him the best in the Florida organization.

The Crunch got more help when Boyle was dealt to the Leafs for Froese, who immediately becomes Syracuse’s leading goal scorer and No. 1 center. With Brayden Point staying in the NHL for the year and beyond, Froese is an important add for the Crunch. He actually beat Syracuse with a late game-winning goal a couple weeks ago. The real prize from the Toronto trade is the second round pick, which will be the highest of the three second rounders the Leafs own – their own, Ottawa’s, and San Jose’s. Anytime you can add a top-60 pick for a pending unrestricted free agent, you take it. Stats show players drafted after 60 have a much, much lower probability rate of making the NHL.

The Lightning can flip one of their second rounders for defense help in the offseason or use it to add to their stable of future NHLers. After all, that's where NHLers come from - something we have to remind the masses from time to time.

Boyle is a unique situation as he has immediate and extended family in Florida and all accounts are he loved his time in Tampa. He’s in control of his next home city and if the Lightning want him back he should be an easy re-sign. Vegas has the Lightning in the lead to re-sign him in the summer (this is a lie; they don’t have odds on that, but you get the point).

A third player was dealt off the Lightning’s NHL roster when Val Filppula was traded to Philadelphia with a fourth rounder for Mark Streit. So much of NHL success now is dependent on what happens off the ice, and the Lightning hit a home run in that regard with this trade. Filppula’s exit opens up $5 million in cap space next year, which is likely the difference between adding a defenseman while keeping Palat and Drouin, or choosing one of those three to pass on. Tyler Johnson could also be involved there, but another contract (Garrison?) would have to be moved. At least there are options now, and there’s another option for the expansion draft. Filppula’s No Movement Clause means he has to be protected in the e-draft, and with him gone the Lightning can open that spot up for Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, or Alex Killorn. Tampa Bay can keep seven forwards, and speculation is they’ll keep 91 (required), 24 (required), 86, 27, 18, 9, and 17 with 90 on the outside looking in. That’s doable moving forward.

Some blame Yzerman for the cap situation as he’s the one who signed Filppula to his large contract. Yes, absolutely, however, that was a different time. Filppula was exactly what the Lightning needed at the time he was signed, and like with the Wilcox trade, sometimes you have to give up something nice to make things happen. Almost every UFA signs for 1-2 years too many and teams desperate for help are willing to give it to them with the hope that if they need to move something later to make things work, they can do it. Present over future. Yzerman got what he wanted from Filppula and was able to move him in time to keep the ship afloat. #Jedi

As for the 39-year-old Streit, he didn’t even get a chance to take his grandkids to the Florida beaches before he was dealt to Pittsburgh for a 2018 fourth rounder. Essentially, all the speculation that Yzerman would have to move a prospect or significant asset to get someone to take Filppula’s contract was wiped away with this trade, which ended up equaling the Lightning paying a year’s delay in using a fourth rounder for Philly taking Flip’s salary. Nicely done, 19.

The Lightning are still in the playoff hunt, and while they most definitely were sellers this deadline, they can still make it in. They didn’t play well enough all year to warrant being a buyer, and many think Bishop would have been on the move anyway. As evidenced by the Shattenkirk deal, teams in a cap era have to move pending UFA’s for something if they think there’s a decent chance they’re walking. Bishop and Shattenkirk were walking; Stamkos last year was iffy to walk. They rolled the dice with Stamkos and won. They weren’t going to get Bishop back for $4M. He wants north of 6-7.

Make no bones about it: Bishop is a better goalie right now than Vasilevskiy. Filppula is more reliable than Brayden Point or Vladdy Namestnikov right now, and Brian Boyle’s as good a “bottom-6” forward as the Lightning have ever had.

This is the NHL today. You have to let players go to keep affordable players around. The Lightning have chosen to build their team around Stamkos, Hedman, and Kucherov. They believe that Vasilevskiy can give them many years of quality play to support that core, and they have the pieces to make that core successful – if they have the money to afford that support.

Yzerman has not been perfect – the defensive deficiencies were evident early this year and nothing was ever done to fix it, enabling the hole the Lightning are digging themselves out of. Whether or not there were deals to be made is classified, so to speak, but there’s always a price if you’re willing to pay it.

This coming offseason will be significant for the Yzerplan. He simply has to add a defenseman, but not until after the expansion draft so he can keep Koekkoek or Dotchin in addition to Hedman and Stralman, then can move on with four key defensemen; not three. He has the picks and prospects to get it done, and the farm depth so it won't hurt.

He also needs to move or buy out another contract or two if he can, though Callahan’s health will play a part in that. It’s hard to move contracts in the offseason, which is why Yzerman had to move Filppula now. Restricted Free Agent contracts are easier in the summer, and there are teams who will want a center like Johnson or a 2-way winger like Palat. We’re still expecting one of them to go to help bring in a top-4 defenseman. Anaheim, Nashville, and Minnesota remain targets for that, but they’re all in playoff races right now, so Yzerman will remain patient. Imagine that.

In the end, there’s always a plan. Sometimes it involves doing cash angels on a bed of money, sometimes not. Either way, the Lightning came out of the trade deadline as winners for Best Support of a Big Picture.