For any franchise, the hope at the start of the season is that you will be buying for a playoff run at the trade deadline, not selling off beloved players for future assets. Sometimes things go wrong, though, and how a general manager handles a trade deadline can help them turn a rebuild into a retool in short order.
After the Tampa Bay Lightning experienced a magical 2011 Postseason run where they took the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, the franchise wanted to build upon this success and return to the playoffs once again in 2012. However, with a middling defensive corps and suspect goaltending, the Bolts couldn’t pull themselves out of mediocrity despite Steven Stamkos being on pace to score 60 goals.
With their season hanging in the balance, then general manager Steve Yzerman had a choice to make. He could either continue pushing forward with a team that was technically in the playoff hunt but lacked consistency, or he could pull the ripcord and sell off any asset he could.
Roughly two weeks before the deadline, Yzerman gave his answer. What followed was a flurry of trades that sent veteran talent out of Tampa Bay and brought in assets that helped reshape the future of the franchise.
Lightning’s Many 2012 Trades, Both Small and Large
In this first deal, Yzerman sent forward Dominic Moore and a seventh-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for a second-rounder. Following that, he moved veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina to the Philadelphia Flyers for Jon Kalinski, a 2012 second-round pick and a 2013 fourth-rounder.
Two days after this move, he made a three-way deal with the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings that saw Steve Downie join Colorado, defenseman Kyle Quincey get shipped to Detroit while Sebastien Piche and a 2012 first-rounder returned to Tampa Bay.
Finally, on deadline day, the Lightning attempted to address their ailing blue line by trading for two stalled prospects. First, they sent forward prospect Carter Ashton to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Keith Aulie, then in a last-second move shipped veteran defender Matt Gilroy to the Chicago Blackhawks for Brian Lee.
While neither Lee nor Aulie would make a long-term impact for Tampa Bay, they were still shrewd targets by Yzerman, as they were young defensemen who could have flourished in a different system.
Yzerman Sold the Farm to Build a Future
With a pocketful of high-value draft picks, Yzerman’s plan for the Lightning became clear. In the months following this deadline, almost every asset was used to address their biggest need: a franchise goaltender. Not since Nikolai Khabibulin had the team featured stable goaltending, and he knew that they would not be successful as long as this issue was left unaddressed.
First, Yzerman sent two 2012 second-round picks (one he acquired on deadline day and one he acquired in an earlier deal with Philadelphia back in 2010) in a package along with a 2013 third-rounder to the Nashville Predators for goaltender Anders Lindback, Kyle Wilson, and a seventh-rounder that was used to select Nikita Gusev. Next, he used Detroit’s first-round pick to select Andrei Vasilevskiy on draft day, giving him one of the prize goaltenders of the class. Finally, the additional fourth-round pick from the Kubina trade was used in a package deal to the Ottawa Senators along with Cory Conacher to acquire Ben Bishop.
Now with three potential franchise goaltenders in their system, all the Lightning had to do was let them develop to see if any would reach their full potential.
Ultimately, while Lindback ended up not being an answer in the net for Tampa Bay, both Bishop and Vasilevskiy reached their full potential with the team. Both players are top-three goalies in franchise history, and without their incredible play, it’s unlikely that the Lightning would have experienced so much success over the last eight years.
So, while no one wants to be a seller at the trade deadline, Yzerman made the right choices in 2012 to put the franchise on the winning path. Now, more than a decade later, the Lightning are still reaping the rewards of these decisions.
All trade information was taken from capfriendly.com.
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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.