As we inch closer to the NHL trade deadline, the rumor mill is in full fever pitch, with new names and trade targets getting thrown out there every day. No team is immune to this talk, even if you are at the top of the league like the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Despite having one of the top rosters in the NHL, there will always be an interesting ‘what if’ conversation about how you could theoretically improve the Lightning at the 2019 Trade Deadline. Sure, they really don’t need to add anyone, but if they did, who would be the best choice for first-year general manager Julien BriseBois to pursue?
While deadline rentals like Wayne Simmonds and Micheal Ferland have been connected to the Lightning for weeks, and a big name trade target like Artemi Panarin would be a fun addition, no potentially available player would be a better option than the Florida Panthers’ Jonathan Huberdeau.
Huberdeau Would Improve the Lightning
The reason why Huberdeau would be the best target for the Lightning is due to how perfectly he fits the model of the franchise. As an offensively talented, yet defensively-responsible forward, he is cut from the cloth that head coach Jon Cooper knows best.
Besides fitting into the roster perfectly, Huberdeau also fills a need for the team. Arguably, the only hole in the Lightning’s forward corps is their top-line left winger. Typically, this role is filled by Ondrej Palat, but ever since he returned from a foot injury suffered at the start of the season, his play has been good but not great. While he still can flip the switch and get back to his old self, feet injuries are weird, and it may take until the offseason before he can return to his full potential.
Huberdeau Could Be the Final Piece
So, by adding Huberdeau to the Lightning’s top line, this would create a perfect pairing alongside Steven Stamkos who tends to play his best hockey when he has a defensively-responsible linemate who can fight for puck possession while drawing some attention away from the All-Star centerman. As a player with both a Corsi and Fenwick for above 52 percent for most of his career, Huberdeau knows how to control the puck in the offensive zone.
Not only would he improve their top line, Huberdeau would also add one more scoring threat to the Lightning’s league-leading power play. With six goals and 22 points on the power play this season, Huberdeau is lethal on the man advantage. With talents like Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman driving play, he could take up shop in front of the opponent’s net, getting those dirty area goals while racking up assists with some perfect passing.
Huberdeau Won’t Be Traded to the Lightning
Now for the bad news…there are a million valid reasons why Huberdeau will never be traded to Tampa Bay. First and foremost, the Panthers and Lightning are not only division rivals, but in-state rivals as well.
In their near 25 years sharing the sunshine state, the two franchises have only made a handful of trades, oftentimes just swapping minor league players. So, if the idea of Florida trading a roster player to Tampa Bay seems unlikely, them sending an All-Star forward their way might as well be impossible.
The only way the Lightning could pry Huberdeau from the Panthers would involve a massive over-payment of picks, prospects and current roster players. To even start the conversation, they would likely need to include a cost-controlled All-Star of their own like Brayden Point or a high-upside young defenseman like Mikhail Sergachev or Erik Cernak.
Simply put, BriseBois is not going to be parting with one of those players, even if it would improve the team at the deadline. If a smart deal could be hashed out, then it would be well worth it for the Lightning to trade some futures to their in-state rivals for Huberdeau, but given their history, this will never happen.
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.