With the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline approaching, Tampa Bay Lightning fans find themselves looking towards what should be an uneventful day. Given the teams’ lack of cap space, it seems likely that general manager Julien BriseBois will stand pat this year, whether he wanted to add a piece or two to his roster or not.
Due to this, it would feel a bit disingenuous to discuss players that the Lightning could be pursuing since a trade actually materializing will be close to zero. With this in mind, I wanted to take the pre-deadline talk in a different direction entirely and discuss players that BriseBois would love to add to his roster for a postseason push, regardless of their current cap problems.
Now, even though this is a speculative discussion, I will still lay down a few rules. First, the player has to be on a team that will be selling at the deadline. Second, they have to have either one or two years left on their current contract, making them either a pure rental or a Blake Coleman / Barclay Goodrow style acquisition to give the franchise more options going forward.
So, with those rules in place, which players would the Lightning love to acquire at the trade deadline if they had the cap space to do so?
David Savard – Columbus Blue Jackets
To put it simply, the Lightning are reaching a breaking point on defense. When healthy, they have one of the best corps in the NHL, with their left side in particular feature some truly incredible depth.
However, due to injuries and some turnover since their 2020 Stanley Cup run, their right side is looking less viable. Erik Cernak and Jan Ruuta have both missed some time this season due to injury, Cal Foote is a good player but is still a rookie, and with their depth being tested, they have had to call up relatively untested players like Andreas Borgman and Ben Thomas to take on starting ice-time.
While this situation is far from ideal, it isn’t that big of an issue during the regular season, especially since the Lightning built themselves a cushion in the standings with their strong play. In the postseason, though, this lack of depth on the right side could be quickly exposed if injury strikes.
So, if the Lightning were able to make a splash at the trade deadline, their target would be the biggest fish in the pond, David Savard. For eight years, Savard has been a staple on the Blue Jackets blue line, playing a tough, smart game that translates perfectly to the playoffs.
Tampa Bay fans know this all too well, as Savard has been a real thorn in their side for the last two postseasons. He was that punishing defenseman which every fanbase hated playing against, but would welcome with open arms onto their own roster for a postseason run.
Jonathan Bernier – Detroit Red Wings
For Tampa Bay, starting goaltending is an area that they are set on. With Andrei Vasilevskiy manning the net, they have one of the best goalies in the world who is capable of starting every game in a postseason run.
Behind Vasilevskiy, however, the Lightning are a bit thin. While they have veteran backup Curtis McElhinney, his play throughout the regular season has left a lot to be desired. In eight starts, he has a 3-4-1 record, with a .882 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.03 goals-against average (GAA).
Given this situation, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see BriseBois looking at options to upgrade his goaltending depth. While there are a few solid options available, none seem better than Jonathan Bernier of the Detroit Red Wings. In 17 games played with Detroit, Bernier posted an 8-6-0 record, with an impressive .918 SV% and a 2.78 GAA. When you consider that the Red Wings are currently in the middle of a deep rebuild, these statistics are even more impressive.
Of course, even if the Lightning could afford Bernier right now, his recent injury struggles would complicate any deal that could be created. However, in a perfect world, he would be that best-case depth addition for Tampa Bay to stabilize the net behind Vasilevskiy.
Nikita Gusev – New Jersey Devils
It wasn’t that many years ago when Lightning fans were excitedly watching highlights of Nikita Gusev as he was torching the KHL. As a seventh-round pick by Tampa Bay back in 2012, Gusev had the look of a late-blooming Russian who was undervalued at the draft but could blossom into a top-six NHL forward.
However, at the 2017 expansion draft, Gusev was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights as part of a deal for them to select defenseman Jason Garrison. The following season, he went on to be the 2017-18 KHL MVP and put on a clinic at the 2018 Olympics, making the hype behind his talent go through the roof. After that, he decided to bring his skills to the NHL in 2019 and was eventually traded to the New Jersey Devils, which looked like a perfect fit at the time.
In 86 NHL games, however, things have not gone perfectly for Gusev. He has shown glimpses of his talent, but also only has 15 goals and 49 points in 86 games, leading to him being waived by the Devils.
Given what appears to be a bad fit for Gusev in New Jersey, the once touted prospect might be on his way out with the franchise. This would mean that he could be acquired relatively cheap for the potential output he could bring to the Lightning, especially when you consider how his high-skill game plan would mesh perfectly with Tampa Bay. Plus, he’s old friends and former linemates with Nikita Kucherov, so there’s a chance they could rekindle their talents together in the postseason.
Lightning Will Be Quite at the Deadline
Ultimately, this article is just to have some fun heading into what will likely be a quiet trade deadline for Tampa Bay. While they would love to add a few pieces to their line-up, that likely won’t happen due to a multitude of reasons.
If BriseBois does make a trade at the deadline, it will be some small depth piece that will be unexpected, but address an issue as efficiently as possible. So it won’t be a sexy move, but one that is the best possible given the circumstances.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.