The only thing that can be guaranteed in the NHL is that, at some point, injuries will strike your team. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, a relatively healthy season came to a screeching halt when they lost half of their top-four defensemen in less than a week.
It started with a major injury to Jan Rutta, who went feet first into the boards during the club’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights, then continued with Ryan McDonagh awkwardly blocking a shot in the next outing. These injuries appear to be serious, with both players being listed as week-to-week for the foreseeable future.
After these sudden injuries, the Lightning find themselves going from spectators at the trade deadline to buyers in need of a defenseman. Yes, the franchise has some depth that can be tested for this situation, but relying on a rookie or an AHL-veteran for any stretch of time would be far from ideal.
Due to this, the Lightning may be looking to acquiring a defenseman to help fill in the gaps on their top-four. With cap space at a premium, however, they will need to find someone who is cost-controlled while still capable of taking on 18-plus minutes of ice-time each night.
Dylan DeMelo Fits the Lightning’s Needs
Of all of their potential options available, few players fit the needs of the Lightning more than Dylan DeMelo. As a right-shot defenseman on an affordable and expiring contract, he immediately checks two important boxes for the franchise.
While playing for the struggling Ottawa Senators for the last season and a half, DeMelo has actually put together somewhat positive numbers overall. In 2019-20, he has posted 10 points, gone plus-five and is sporting a Corsi and Fenwick-for around 50 percent all while playing more than 19 minutes each night for a bottom-feeding team.
If he were able to step into a top-pairing role alongside Victor Hedman, DeMelo could have the opportunity to really shine in Rutta’s absence. Also, if he clicks with Hedman, the Lightning could re-sign him to a new contract in the 2020 offseason to give their Norris-winning defenseman a permanent partner.
What Are DeMelo’s Downsides?
The biggest downside to acquiring DeMelo is simple: cost. The defenseman trade market always has a lot of buyers, but due to a rash of injuries around the league, more teams than normal find themselves in need of a top-four defender at the deadline.
Combine this with the relatively few sellers there are expected to be this season, and one could easily see a bidding war starting for a player of DeMelo’s potential and cap-hit.
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Under normal circumstances, one would expect DeMelo to return a mid-round pick and/or a prospect at the deadline. This season, however, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Ontario native bring back a late first-round draft selection for the Senators.
While he may be worth that for the right team, the Lightning are rightfully shrewd with their first-round selections, only trading those for players that will remain with the franchise for years to come.
Lightning Should Spend Carefully on DeMelo
If the right opportunity presented itself to the Lightning, there are far worse players they could acquire at the deadline than DeMelo. He not only fills an immediate need on the roster, but he would give Tampa Bay flexibility and depth for a playoff run.
However, given the current trade market, the Lightning shouldn’t get into a bidding war for DeMelo. Even with potentially two first-round selections at the 2020 Draft, the last thing the Bolts want to do is overspend at the deadline on a pure rental.