During his time as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steve Yzerman approached every trade deadline differently. Some seasons he was a seller, auctioning off veteran players in order to help build the future of the franchise. Other seasons he was a buyer, cashing in some of those assets he acquired at past deadlines in order to bring in key players for a playoff push.
Since the 2019 Trade Deadline will be the Lightning’s first without Yzerman at the helm since 2010, this creates the perfect opportunity to look back at the moves he made while managing Tampa Bay. Some of these trades looked small at the moment, while others reshaped the landscape of the entire franchise.
2011: Lightning Were Surprise Buyers
After suffering through years of mediocrity, the Lightning made a surprise push to the 2011 Playoffs. As a unit, Tampa Bay was good, but they were still in desperate need for reinforcements in both goaltending and on defense.
In response to these needs, Yzerman brought in veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders for defensive prospect Ty Wishart, as well as St. Louis Blues captain Eric Brewer for prospect Brock Beukeboom and a 2011 third-round pick. Both of these players made an immediate mark on the franchise, becoming key pieces of the Lightning squad that went to the 2011 Eastern Conference Final.
After the season ended, Yzerman re-signed both Brewer and Roloson, making them more than just a deadline rental. This became a key part of his legacy, as the Lightning established that future assets would only be traded if they felt they could return a player for more than one playoff push.
2012: Regressing Lightning Struck Gold
One season after they surprised the hockey world by being buyers at the deadline, the Lightning were looking to sell off many of the core pieces that helped carry them to the 2011 Eastern Conference Final. This included trading Steve Downie for what eventually became the Detroit Red Wings’ first-round pick, sending Dominic Moore to San Jose for a second-round pick and Pavel Kubina to the Philadelphia Flyers for a second and fourth-round pick.
Despite not being buyers, the 2012 Trade Deadline was arguably the most important in Yzerman’s tenure. By trading off veterans at a high value, he acquired a stockpile of high picks, one of which was used to select Andrei Vasilevskiy at the 2012 Draft. This move alone helped secure the goaltending future for Tampa Bay, and is paying dividends for the team today.
2013: Lightning Made a Post-Lockout Shocker
After starting out the lockout-shortened 2013 season strongly, the Lightning fell off the metaphorical cliff and were looking to sell by the deadline. Despite recently drafting Vasilevskiy and paying a premium for Anders Lindback in the offseason, Yzerman decided that he was still not satisfied with his goaltending future.
At the deadline, he sent Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for goaltender Ben Bishop. This deal was viewed negatively at the time by the Lightning fanbase, as Conacher was a bright spot in a season of mediocrity whereas Bishop looked destined to be nothing more than a career backup.
It only took one game for Bishop to prove Yzerman was, in fact, right to put his trust in him. After posting a shutout in his first game with Tampa Bay, he became one of the most successful goaltenders in Lightning history. During his time, he led the team to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final while earning multiple Vezina nominations during his time with the franchise.
2014: The Captain for Captain Trade
Despite being one of the top teams in the NHL in 2014, Tampa Bay found themselves as sellers at the deadline due to a falling out between then captain Martin St. Louis and Yzerman. Despite seeing the franchise through some of its darkest years, St. Louis demanded to be traded to the New York Rangers even though they were setting up for a playoff run.
After much discussion, St. Louis was eventually traded to the Rangers for captain Ryan Callahan, a 2014 first-round pick and what turned into a 2015 first-round pick after New York reached the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
While trading St. Louis was a short-term loss for the Lightning, Yzerman received a lion’s share for his undersized superstar forward. Given the situation he was handed, he pulled back a larger haul of picks than one would expect from New York, all while keeping his core intact for the playoffs. Even if they were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in Round 1, this deadline set the franchise up for success in the future.
2015: The Lightning Cash in on Defense
Heading into the 2015 Deadline, it was clear that the Lightning needed an upgrade on defense in order to be a serious threat in the playoffs. After exploring all his options, Yzerman eventually acquired Braydon Coburn from the Flyers for Radko Gudas, along with a 2015 first and third-round draft pick.
Along with this trade, he also shipped Brett Connolly to the Boston Bruins for a second-round pick in the 2015 and 2016 Drafts. So, in a classic Yzerman move, he managed to be both a buyer and a seller at the deadline, trading off a few assets for a piece he needed while getting high value on a prospect who hadn’t reached his full potential with the franchise.
As I wrote previously:
By acquiring Coburn and having a fantastic 2015 Draft, Tampa Bay got the veteran defenseman they needed while also restocking their prospect pipeline for the future.
Even if this was a lot to give up for Coburn, it paid off in the end, as the veteran defenseman played the better part of five seasons with Tampa Bay. Connolly, on the other hand, lasted less than two with the Bruins.
2016: A Lot of Nothing for Yzerman
Despite making a run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, Yzerman chose to stand pat at the 2016 Deadline. He made no significant trades, believing that he already had a core that could compete with the best in the league. He was right, as the Lightning made it to Game 7 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final.
2017: Lightning Selling at the Deadline
After reaching the playoffs for three straight seasons, the Lightning seemed primed to make a run at the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. However, after a season-ending injury to Steven Stamkos derailed their season, Yzerman found himself a seller at the deadline.
The first move sent Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings along with a 2017 fifth-round pick for backup Petr Budaj and prospect Erik Cernak. Soon after, he sent Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 2017 second-round pick and prospect Byron Froese.
The final move sent Valterri Filppula along with a 2017 forth and seventh-round pick for defenseman Mark Streit, who was quickly flipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 2017 fourth-round pick.
This deadline set a few important things in motion for Tampa Bay. First, they were able to make some cap room, along with clearing up space for the expansion draft by trading Filppula. Second, they acquired Cernak, who has been a vital part of their defensive core as a rookie throughout the 2018-19 season. So, while the Lightning came up a point short of the playoffs after selling at the deadline, this still set the franchise up for a brighter future while keeping them competitive in the short-term.
2018: Lightning Make a Blockbuster
In what turned out to be Yzerman’s final trade deadline as general manager of the Lightning, he pulled off arguably the biggest deadline deal in team history. After rumors tied Tampa Bay to a number of big-name players, most notably Erik Karlsson, they eventually made a move to bring in Ryan McDonagh from the Rangers.
This was a huge deal for both teams, with the Lightning sending Vladislav Namestnikov, prospects Brett Howden and Libor Hajek, a 2018 first-round pick and a conditional 2019 second-round pick to New York for McDonagh and J.T. Miller.
Even if they came up short in the 2018 Playoffs, this deal was one last example of Yzerman’s incredible patience and tact while approaching the trade deadline. Instead of giving up vital pieces of the Lightning’s core in order to bring in two highly valued players, he traded futures that the team had an excess of at the time. Then, after paying the high price of this deadline deal, he re-signed both Miller and McDonagh in the offseason, making them key parts of the future.
Yzerman Won at the Trade Deadline
When you look back at his work from the trade deadline, you have to be impressed with what Yzerman pulled off over the years. When he needed to buy, he went out and got strong veteran players who were more than just a rental, allowing him to build his roster around these acquisitions. When he needed to sell, he went all in, moving out big name, high-value players for returns that helped define the future of the franchise.
In all cases, he made the team better in both the short and long-term. Most impressively, there isn’t one deadline move you can point to and say it was a mistake. They all played a role and were a vital reason as to why this team reached the Eastern Conference Final four times after Yzerman took over in 2010.
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.