Lightning Have Few Needs as Trade Deadline Approaches

Heading into the 2022 All-Star Break, the 2021-22 season has gone about as well as one could have hoped for the Tampa Bay Lightning. After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, general manager Julien BriseBois had to retool his roster, which meant watching key players depart the franchise to seek new (and often more lucrative) opportunities.

While these losses dismantled part of the core that carried the Lightning to glory, BriseBois made a number of deft signings to replace these players. Names like Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Zach Bogosian, and Brian Elliot were brought in as low-risk veteran options, as these players could start for Tampa Bay or even be stashed in the AHL should they get outplayed but a prospect.

Speaking of prospects, forwards Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, and Alex Barre-Boulet all looked ready to take on NHL ice time at the start of the season, meaning that Tampa Bay had a good mix of veterans and rookies to fill out their forward corps. Sure, things were a bit thinner on defense and goaltending, but there was enough talent to ice a strong team that could get the Lightning back to the postseason.

Corey Perry Tampa Bay Lightning
After facing him in back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships, the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Corey Perry to a low-cost contract to add needed veteran depth to their forward corps. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite all these changes, Tampa Bay are doing more than just competing this season. At the All-Star Break, the team is carrying an impressive 30-10-6 record, which puts them second in the Atlantic and (in a showcase of how good the top of their division is) third overall in the NHL behind only the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche.

With another playoff push ahead of them, let’s take a look at the Lightning’s roster to see what the team could improve upon as the trade deadline approaches.

Lightning’s Deep Forward Core Needs No Additions

If there’s one thing the Lightning have proven over the last year-plus of hockey, it is that they can survive the regular season without Nikita Kucherov, but that they truly thrive when he is on the ice. Due to a myriad of issues, Kucherov has been limited to just 11 games played so far this season, and while he has 17 points in those games, he has not been able to be the offensive lynchpin of this team.

Instead, the forward corps has been powered by Steven Stamkos, who has rolled back the clock to lead the team in goals scored and total points. Behind him, players like Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, and Brayden Point have picked up the slack left by Kucherov, posting at least 15 goals and 30 points each.

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Many of the new additions have found their place in the lineup as well, as Perry has scored 12 goals and 23 points alongside Bellemare and Pat Maroon on a third line that can be best described as three grumpy men. Even the rookies are finding some success, with Raddysh and Katchouk carving out a fairly consistent spot in a bottom-six role.

All this means is that the Lightning’s forward corps is in good shape. While everyone would love to add one more piece for a playoff run, given their cap situation and other needs, it would make sense for BriseBois to stand by his current forwards for a playoff run.

Lightning Could Use Assurance on Defense and Goaltending

When you look at the Lightning’s defensive corps and goaltending, you see a different situation. When healthy, they have the best goaltender in the game in Andrei Vasilevskiy and one of the top defensive corps as well, with Victor Hedman headlining a unit that has won multiple championships together.

Once you get past their starters, however, there are some serious questions about depth. The Lightning feature few defensemen in their prospect pool who would be considered NHL-caliber, especially when you put them up against the rigors of the playoffs. Sure, these players are capable to take on a few games in the regular season, but heading into what could be another deep playoff run, BriseBois may need to add one more piece to his defensive corps.

Zach Bogosian Tampa Bay Lightning
When healthy, Zach Bogosian is that perfect third-pairing defenseman for the Lightning, but the 2020 Stanley Cup winner has struggled with injury throughout the 2021-22 season. (Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images)

As far as goaltending goes, the reality is that the Lightning will, once again, be 100 percent reliant on Vasilevskiy to start every postseason game. While Brian Elliot has started playing better throughout the season, he still isn’t up to the task to take on important games.

In a perfect world, you would like to have a backup that you can count on in those moments, but if Vasilevskiy goes down with an injury, it wouldn’t really matter who is behind him. The franchise is dependent on their starter to have a chance at a third-straight Cup, and spending futures (and cap space) at the trade deadline wouldn’t improve this scenario significantly.

Lightning Can Find Value at the Trade Deadline

While you can argue that it would be impossible for Lightning to make a meaningful deal at the 2022 Trade Deadline, as he has shown in prior years, BriseBois will find creative ways to fit under the cap and is willing to spend big to bring on a player that he believes will be the difference-maker. However, given the limitations, it seems less likely that Tampa Bay will be able to land one of the top targets again, especially as so many teams will be looking to improve their defensive depth.

The good news is, the Lightning don’t need to go big-name hunting this season. With additions like Bogosian in the offseason, they should only need to add one low-cost starter to supplement their lineup. The sort of player who can step up and play 14 minutes a night if injury strikes but also can be scratched for a few games while everyone is healthy.

Even if BriseBois doesn’t make a move by the trade deadline, the Lightning are still in a good place to try and defend their championships. However, given his recent history, expect the franchise to take an aggressive approach to their roster in order to put themselves in the best position to win three-straight Stanley Cups.