In Tampa Bay, we’ve thrived on stability. That’s what we’ve tried to do – have a stable situation. That’s how we first became successful.
Stability is a good thing, but not everybody shares that view. Trades, and possible trades, get the media talking. It’s an exciting time from that perspective, but it’s not the way I like to go about it. I honestly believe if you’re going to make a deal, doing it well in advance of the trade deadline makes it easier for the player you bring in to have an impact.
I know I felt that way when we brought in defenseman Darryl Sydor in January of 2004. When the trade deadline passed, people said: “Well, Tampa didn’t do anything.” Well, we didn’t do anything sexy at the trade deadline, but we made a significant move almost a month earlier.
The year Carolina won the Stanley Cup is another great example. Doug Weight was brought in well before the deadline. It was at the end of January when they did that deal. If you’re going to do it, and if you can do it sooner rather than waiting until the deadline, the player has more of an opportunity to learn your system and get comfortable in his new surroundings with his teammates. So, come playoff time, he can really contribute.
It takes guys a little time to get to know their linemates and what they’ll do in certain situations. The more time you have to acclimate the player, the better. It depends a lot on the player and his own family situation. Are his kids coming with him or not? Is he moving? If the trade is done sooner rather than later, if nothing else, you have more time to deal with those issues.
For these reasons, I prefer having the trade deadline earlier (it’s Feb. 26 this season, compared to mid-March in past years), but sometimes it does take a little time. Last season, for example, we were very interested in Shane O’Brien from Anaheim well before we went to the GM meeting, but it wasn’t until the meeting that things started to crystallize. That’s where the serious conversations start to take place, although that deal didn’t get done until right at the deadline.
It was tough giving up a first round pick and a prospect, but when you’re getting a 24-year-old back, that’s a little better return. O’Brien can be a top-four defenseman and plays physical. What has really surprised us since we got him has been his ability to skate the puck out of trouble. We knew he could move the puck and make a good first pass, but his ability join the rush and chip in offensively really impressed us. It’s something the Ducks didn’t ask him to do.
This season, we’re not sure whether we’ll be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. We’re not looking to raise the white flag right now, both from the standpoint of our team and our fans and also our market. That’s one of the benefits of having the deadline earlier, because if you are still in it, you’re probably going to be disinclined to be a seller. You’re not going to say: “Well, we don’t think we’re going to make it,” when you’re only sitting two, four or six points out with a lot of hockey still to be played.
Danny Boyle’s return to our lineup will also affect our thinking at the trade deadline. Having him back will be huge.
I thought, through the first 20 or 25 games, our young defense corps did a really good job trying to handle and redistribute his minutes. They were able to absorb Boyle’s ice time and did OK. But over our past 20 games it has been tougher, just from the standpoint that you’re asking everyone to play more than they otherwise would if Danny were here eating up 20 to 30 minutes a night.
From that standpoint it’s huge, and it’s huge because of his offensive contribution. You see it on our power play. Right now, Brad Richards spends two minutes playing the point on the power play out of necessity, whereas if Danny was here, you could use him and Brad, or Filip Kuba and Paul Ranger. We wouldn’t have to have Brad out there for the full two minutes.
We’re on the outside looking in right now, but that could change as the deadline approaches. Whatever situation we’re in, we’ll be ready for Feb. 26.
Jay Feaster has been with the Tampa Bay Lightning since 1998 and became the team’s GM in 2002. He will blog on THN.com throughout the 2007-08 season. Read his other entries HERE.