For the second straight season, the Tampa Bay Lightning will be buyers at the trade deadline, looking to stock up before making a push for the Stanley Cup. On the other side of the coin, for the second straight season, the New York Rangers will be looking to sell as they rebuild their franchise with new talent.
So, even though they pulled off a blockbuster trade one year ago, the Lightning and Rangers could be in talks to make another major deadline deal in 2019. While Tampa Bay doesn’t necessarily have to make a deal, they have enough picks and prospects to convince New York to send them just about anyone on their roster.
With this in mind, there are two players that the Lightning’s first-year general manager Julien BriseBois should seriously consider acquiring at the 2019 Trade Deadline: Mats Zuccarello in a major deal and/or Vladislav Namestnikov in a minor one.
Zuccarello Would Shore up the Lightning’s Roster
As the NHL’s top scoring team this season, there are few holes you can poke in the Lightning’s lineup. Even though their roster is solid, it can always use an experienced, offensively talented player like Zuccarello to help fill in the gaps for the postseason. He is the sort of player who could play any role in their forward core, from a top-line scoring winger alongside Steven Stamkos to a third-line energy winger with rookie Anthony Cirelli.
While he may not have the most impressive stats this season, having only posted nine goals and 35 points, this may be due to him playing on a struggling Rangers team than a real decline in his abilities. If he were put into the Lightning’s lineup, he could catch fire like J.T. Miller did after he was acquired at the 2018 Trade Deadline.
The real question is, what would it cost the Lightning to bring in Zuccarello? As a pure rental, he would likely garner a high-pick and a B-tier prospect, so maybe something along the lines of a 2020 second-round pick and defenseman Ben Thomas. While that isn’t a small cost for Tampa Bay, it wouldn’t break the bank either, like they did when they brought in Ryan McDonagh and Miller last season.
A Namestnikov Reunion Could Work for Lightning
If the Lightning were looking to only bring in a pure depth forward at the deadline, there really is no player in the world better suited for that role than Namestnikov. As Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in the 2011 Draft, Namestikov honed his professional career with the franchise, having worked with head coach Jon Cooper and multiple current roster players for the better part of six seasons.
When the Lightning traded Namestnikov to the Rangers, it appeared that he was going to shine in a bigger role with the rebuilding franchise. Unfortunately, he was unable to recapture the magic he found in Tampa Bay, quickly sliding down New York’s depth charts. By the 2019 Trade Deadline, he had only managed 19 points while being a healthy scratch multiple times throughout the season.
This means that the Rangers might be looking to part ways with Namestnikov and the year remaining on his $4 million contract. By taking on this contract, the Lightning may be able to sweeten the pot and swap a bad contract of their own, giving them a little bit of cap wiggle room while sending a veteran to the rebuilding franchise.
Ironically, after they sold high on him last seasons, the Lightning could bring Namestnikov back when his value is low, giving them a depth player who could just as easily slot into Cooper’s system today as he did when he was traded to New York last season. This would make the 26-year old center the perfect depth addition since he knows the franchise better than just about anyone in the NHL.
Another Lightning-Rangers Trade?
Given where they are at right now, the Lightning really shouldn’t make a big trade at the 2019 Deadline. However, a smaller depth deal to bring in Zuccarello or Namestnikov might be exactly what they need in order to shore up their roster before the postseason.
While it may not be as fun as the blockbuster they pulled off one year ago, a trade like this could be just as important for both the Lightning and the Rangers. For Tampa Bay, they could get that last depth player they need to push them over the top for the Stanley Cup. For New York, they could get more picks and prospects to help them in their rebuild.
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.