Remember When? The Lightning’s Weird Waiver Claim of 2018-19

Due to the whirlwind experience of an NHL season, it’s easy to forget or completely miss things that happen, especially the smaller details. Everyone knows that Nikita Kucherov won the 2019 Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player (MVP), for example, but who remembers the Tampa Bay Lightning’s waiver claims that season? I wouldn’t blame anyone for not knowing this information, as it is largely meaningless now, but Tampa Bay’s recent waiver claim of Rudolfs Balcers brought me back to a particular moment in history that was unique for the franchise.

Rudolfs Balcers San Jose Sharks
The Tampa Bay Lightning recently claimed journeyman prospect Rudolfs Balcers off waivers, which brought to mind an interesting story from the 2018-19 season. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While it may not have been that long ago in terms of actual time, the 2018-19 NHL season feels like a lifetime for the Lightning. That season is one that many would prefer to forget, as the franchise won an NHL record-tying 62 games, but got swept in Round 1 of the 2019 Postseason by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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Before the start of this record-setting season, however, the Lightning made a waiver claim on forward Danick Martel from the Philadelphia Flyers. This move was a bit of a surprise, given the strength of their roster, but Martel seemed to perfectly fit the bill of a Tampa Bay prospect. He was a young, undersized, undrafted forward coming off three-straight seasons posting 20 goals and close to forty points in the American Hockey League (AHL) after scoring 48 goals and 102 points in his final season of eligibility in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

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Given their history of developing players of this ilk like Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde, many thought that Martel could become the Lightning’s next major coup, as they had a knack for finding value where others never thought to look.

Lightning Had No Clear Goal for Martel

The downside to claiming Martel off waivers, though, was that the Lightning needed to keep him on their NHL roster or be forced to put him back on waivers again before they could send him to the AHL. Oftentimes when a player is returned to waivers, their original team takes the opportunity to reclaim them, as they get back a lost asset and can then send them to the minor leagues without worrying about another claim happening.

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Knowing this, the Lightning kept Martel on their roster for the entire 2018-19 season. Now, this wouldn’t be a surprise if he was a nightly starter or even a part-timer who got called into 40 or more games, but he wasn’t used this way by the team. Instead, he sat as a healthy scratch for all but nine games, where he posted two points.

Danick Martel Flyers
Danick Martel was a late waiver claim by the Tampa Bay Lightning before the start of the 2018-19 NHL season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After dragging him around North America, the Lightning rewarded Martel with a one-year, two-way contract for the 2019-20 season, where he was sent down to the minor leagues (and actually cleared waivers this time). While playing with the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, he posted 30 points in 52 games, before being traded in a minor-league deal with the Florida Panthers for Anthony Greco. Unfortunately, due to the season being cut short prematurely, he was only able to play in 8 games with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, where he scored four goals and nine points.

Following this lost experience, Martel dealt with the uncertainty of an unprecedented global situation, as he only was able to play in 24 AHL games during the shortened 2020-21 season. Fortunately, he was able to find a consistent role with the Laval Rockets afterward, where he scored 17 goals and 33 points during the 2021-22 regular season, along with 15 points in 15 playoff games.

Read Also: Lightning Continue Late-Round Success at the NHL Draft

So, while he never made a mark in the NHL, Martel has carved out a career in the AHL, which is impressive given the circumstances he has faced. Between losing a season of development due to being a healthy scratch and a pandemic derailing the careers of many young players, there was no guarantee that he would keep playing professional hockey.

Martel Was a Surprising Choice By The Lightning

Looking back on this story, Martel represents an unorthodox personal decision for the Lightning. He wasn’t a miss by the franchise, as his addition to the roster didn’t hurt the team in any way, but it really went against a lot of conventional logic. Normally, you don’t keep a player on your roster for an entire season if you don’t have a plan for them, especially if that player is a budding prospect who needs time in the AHL to continue developing their toolkit.

Danick Martel Flyers
Danick Martel had a bright future within the Philadelphia Flyers organization but has never been able to get his NHL career on track due to many circumstances outside of his control. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At the moment it felt like they were excited to have Martel on the roster, as he seemed like a player who would blossom in a limited role. Instead, they paid him an NHL check for a year, let him play in the AHL for half a season, then traded him in a player swap.

Perhaps then Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman really believed that Martel could be a key part of their future, but his departure from the franchise the following season left the prospect in limbo. Or maybe Tampa Bay’s on-ice success simply meant that the team had little need for changes to their roster, so they never broke out Martel as a contingency plan?

Read Also: Lightning’s Major Flaws Exposed Even Further in Recent Losses

No matter the reason why, Martel’s claim is a reminder of how quickly things can change in the NHL. In less than two calendar years the Lightning set regular season records, experienced massive disappointment, went all in, weathered a worldwide shutdown, and still managed to come out the other side winning a Stanley Cup. While this waiver claim had little to do with all this, it still makes for an interesting call-back to a much different time in Tampa Bay’s history.