Heading into the 2019 Trade Deadline, it seemed likely that the Tampa Bay Lightning would be relatively quiet after having a busy 2018 Deadline. Julien BriseBois, the Lightning’s first-year general manager, inherited a team filled with both high-end talent and depth, so the idea of making a move to improve this already great roster felt unlikely.
This hasn’t stopped the Lightning from getting connected to just about every available rental player this season, however. From Wayne Simmonds to Micheal Ferland to Cody Ceci, BriseBois has apparently been doing his homework on all options available at the deadline.
With the news that Artemi Panarin won’t be re-signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets in order to test free agency in the offseason, a potential new high-end trade target entered the landscape. While Columbus has little reason to trade Panarin right now, as they are currently a playoff-bound team with a solid roster of players, this hasn’t stopped speculation from swirling about where he could end up. The Blue Jackets could get a king’s ransom for their star winger, and while that would hurt their current playoff hopes, it could become a franchise-defining move if handled properly.
So, despite already having a roster full of scoring talent, the Lightning have found themselves connected to Panarin. While it seems unlikely that BriseBois could swing a deal with Columbus to bring in such a major piece, it’s not as improbable as it may seem at first blush.
What Would Panarin Bring to the Lightning?
While the Lightning acquiring an offensive forward might seem like overkill, it would address the team’s one major flaw…a lack of scoring left wingers. Despite having one of the best forward corps in the NHL, Tampa Bay has surprisingly few natural left-wingers on their roster.
Of all things, Panarin would balance out the Lightning’s top-six, allowing the team to flex one of their many undersized centers turned winger back to a bottom-six role. In theory, that would create a top-six that looks something like this:
Ondrej Palat-Steven Stamkos-Tyler Johnson or Yanni Gourde
Artemi Panarin-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov
It doesn’t take a hockey expert to tell you why that lineup would be terrifying for opponents. With a top line featuring Stamkos and a second-line featuring three former and current 30-goal scorers, few teams would be able to match that offensive firepower. The Lightning are already one of the most offensively gifted teams in the league, so the idea that they could take it one step farther is, in a word, ridiculous.
Can Lightning Even Afford Panarin?
If the Lightning are truly pursuing Panarin, the next logical question is: can they even afford him? First off, let’s discuss cap space. Currently, Tampa Bay has roughly $5.5 million in available cap space, meaning that as long as they trade at least one roster player in a deal with Columbus, they will easily clear enough space to be able to take on his $6 million cap hit for this season.
Even though they could fit him under the cap this season, though, Panarin would likely be just a deadline rental for the Lightning. With key players like Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy due raises in the offseason, it seems unlikely that BriseBois would be able to make an $8 to $10 million contract offer given Tampa Bay’s current cap scenario.
Assuming that the Lightning would be okay making a trade for a pure rental, what could they give up to pique the Blue Jackets’ interest? First off, with their 2019 first-round pick tied up in a conditional deal with the New York Rangers, the Lightning would have to dip into the future and trade a 2020 first-round pick. This, along with a high-talent prospect and a roster player would likely be the minimum Columbus would expect in return for their star winger.
The good news for the Lightning is that they have a deep prospect pool along with a number of roster players that could create an enticing package for the Blue Jackets. Given everything, one would expect that the Lightning could create a package featuring a 2020 first-round pick, a prospect like Taylor Raddysh or Alexander Volkov and one of Palat, Johnson, Gourde or J.T. Miller.
Would this be a lot to give up for a playoff rental? Yes. But that’s likely what it would cost to bring in a player with the offensive upside like Panarin in a season when so many teams will be lining up for his services.
Will Lightning Trade for Panarin?
With all this in mind, will the Lightning trade for Panarin? For better or for worse, the answer is no. Given just how good this team has been throughout the season and the incredibly high cost of a deadline deal, it just doesn’t make sense for Tampa Bay to try and hash out a deal with Columbus.
However, if BriseBois really feels that he is that final piece to put Tampa Bay over the top this season, then he would be well worth the price. Panarin is one of those elite talents who would make an already talented Lightning roster better, something that is impressive in its own right.
Also, given that Panarin is friends with Kucherov and Vasilevskiy, it’s always possible that he could be convinced to stay with the Lightning at a slight discount once he is brought in by the franchise. Sure, it would be a bit of a long-shot, but in recent years, when a player is acquired by Tampa Bay, they tend to stick with the team.