At his first trade deadline as the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Julien BriseBois decided to stand by his roster that was tearing through the NHL throughout the 2018-19 season. He stood pat, assuming that he had the right personnel in place to make a deep run in the 2019 playoffs.
After that record-breaking squad melted down in the first round, though, BriseBois has decided to not repeat the mistakes of the past. One week before the 2020 trade deadline, he made a huge splash, acquiring Blake Coleman from the New Jersey Devils for Nolan Foote and the Vancouver Canucks’ conditional first-round pick in 2020.
With the Lightning currently fighting for the Presidents’ Trophy, BriseBois still saw room for improvement on an already strong roster. In many ways, this trade feels like a direct response to the 2019 trade deadline, as he could have held his future assets close to his heart, but instead decided to spend to make this roster a Stanley Cup contender.
So, the question becomes, will Coleman be that piece that the Lightning need to get over the top in 2020?
What Coleman brings to the Lightning
Defense wins championships, and by all accounts, Coleman is one of the better defensive forwards in the NHL. He plays that heavy game that wins playoff series while chipping in 20-plus goals over the last two seasons. He can be that difference maker on the third-line that can turn a playoff series in your favor with a well-timed steal that sets up a game-winning goal.
Coleman has also been one of the top penalty killers for New Jersey this season and will add his talents to an already elite group in Tampa Bay. Considering his style of play, he should adjust quickly to head coach Jon Coopers’ system, likely playing alongside Anthony Cirelli on the third line, which will create one of the toughest lines to play against in all of hockey.
It is also worth noting that Coleman is not a simple rental for the Lightning, either. With a $1.8 million contract running through the 2020-21 season, he will give Tampa Bay a cost-controlled winger to help them maneuver a cap-crunch that will be approaching a crisis over the next season or two.
Did the Lightning Overpay for Coleman?
Now, the bad news for the Lightning. In order to bring back a quality player, you have to give up quality assets, and BriseBois paid a premium for Coleman.
First, Tampa Bay traded 2019 first-round selection Foote less than a season after drafting him. While he may have been seen as a slight reach when the Lightning selected him, it appeared that Foote was developing his game nicely in the WHL, and looked ready to make an impact on the franchise over the next two or three years.
The bigger shock, however, was the fact that BriseBois chose to part ways with the Canucks’ first-round selection that he acquired in the J.T. Miller trade this summer. That pick had a ton of value, whether it would be made at the 2020 Draft, or in 2021.
If the Lightning had given up their own first-rounder this season, it would have made this trade far less impactful. By sending Vancouver’s pick to New Jersey, it feels like a much steeper price to pay even if it may only amount to a difference of a handful of spots on the draft board.
Lightning Risking It All on Coleman
Right now, it is impossible to know if the Lightning made the right choice by paying a steep price for Coleman. My gut reaction for this trade isn’t necessarily positive, because both Foote and Vancouver’s first-round selection felt like they held a lot of value to the franchise.
However, the Lightning didn’t have to part ways with any current roster talent and the managed to hold onto some of their prime prospects like Nolan’s brother Cal Foote, and Alex Barre-Boulet. These players are inarguably the franchises’ two top-prospects, so keeping them likely means more than a first-rounder right now.
What can’t be denied is that Lightning are all-in for the 2020 playoffs. And if it counts for anything, players like Coleman often make the difference in a deep playoff run, so if he can contribute even one game-changing play, then this trade will be worth it for the franchise.
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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.