Though the Tampa Bay Lightning began this season considered a Stanley Cup contender, they enter this weekend sitting outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture. A combination of injuries to key players such as captain Steven Stamkos, inconsistent goaltending from Ben Bishop, lack of depth among their top-four blueliners, and a sputtering offense and a struggling penalty kill (79.4 percent) are contributing factors to their current plight.
With only 32 points in 30 games as of Dec. 15, the Lightning were ninth overall in the Eastern Conference. Some of their fans are calling upon GM Steve Yzerman to shake things up.
ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun reports Yzerman acknowledged his club's difficulties and the areas (penalty killing, goals against and shots against) where they need the most improvement. He tells LeBrun he's constantly looking at ways to improve his roster. However, it's difficult to find a trade partner and a deal that makes sense with so many teams carrying limited salary-cap space.
Bishop, 30, is often cited as Yzerman's best trade chip. An unrestricted free agent in July, he was nearly shipped to the Calgary Flames last June but the deal fell through. Given the Lightning's long-term commitment to young goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, their scant salary-cap space and need to re-sign key forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin next summer, Bishop could be asked to waive his no-movement clause at some point this season.
But as Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times observes, there's not much of a market for goaltenders right now. That could change by the March 1 trade deadline, but Smith also notes Yzerman hasn't ruled out keeping Bishop this season for one final run at the Stanley Cup.
If Yzerman shops Bishop, he could seek a defenseman in return. LeBrun believes a top-four blueliner tops the Lightning GM's wish list. Finding one on a team in dire need of a goaltending upgrade, however, is another matter.
It's also worth remembering that the Lightning were in roughly the same place in the standings a year ago. They rallied, secured a playoff berth and advanced to within one game of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps they can do it again without having to ship out Bishop for a blueliner. Otherwise, Yzerman will have to remain patient and hope the trade market significantly improves in the New Year.
KINGS WON’T FIND BIG-NAME REPLACEMENT FOR QUICK
The Los Angeles Kings are in need of a skilled starter. On Wednesday, GM Dean Lombardi revealed Jonathan Quick, sidelined since the season opener with a groin injury, won't return until mid-February. The Kings are making do with backup Jeff Zatkoff and call-up Peter Budaj. Of late, however, they're both struggling between the pipes.
Don't expect Lombardi to pursue Bishop or another significant starter. Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times reports Lombardi isn't ready to “toss the kitchen sink” at another club to acquire a top goaltender, even if an upgrade was available and could be squeezed under the salary cap.
With Quick on long-term injure reserve, they can exceed the $73-million cap ceiling by $5.6 million. While that gives them sufficient wiggle room to add a goalie, they must get back under the cap ceiling when he returns to action in February. That creates the headache of shedding salary before Quick's return, potentially hurting the Kings elsewhere in the lineup.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.