Every Cup winner since 2010 has made a deadline (or deadlineish) trade. The Lightning stood pat. So either Tampa Bay is going to regret not trying to make the NHL’s best team just a little better, or they’re going to buck some recent history. But, then again, no Cup winner, no team, since 2010 or ever, had reached 98 points by the deadline. There’s a very good chance the Lightning already have everything they need. They’re betting on it.
Here’s GM Julien BriseBois, with a quote that radiates well-earned confidence:
“We analyzed things rationally, coldly, with one objective in mind and made those decisions accordingly. And the decision we made was passing on making a deal today because we thought we were closer to winning the Cup without making that deal.”
There’s not really a glaring weakness on this roster. Yes, Nikita Kucherov is going to win the Hart and Andrei Vasilevskiy the Vezina, but it’s a true team effort: the Lightning lead the league on both the power play and the penalty kill. They have nine different players with double-digit goals. This is the sort of roster that other GMs are only hoping to emulate when they make their own deadline deals.
But the gap between the Lightning and the rest of the league is necessarily a little slimmer today, because a number of other contenders did get better, especially out West. The first-place Predators got both deeper and tougher by adding Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds; the Jets acquired a second-line center in Kevin Hayes; the Sharks bolstered an already-impressive arsenal with Gustav Nyquist; the Golden Knights landed the deadline’s biggest prize in Mark Stone. Back East, the Bruins, Capitals, and Leafs all made small tweaks, while the Blue Jackets are, a little confusingly, all in.
There are things the Lightning could have done, both now and for the near future. They might’ve added a right-handed defenseman to a blue line that skews lefty. On another tack, they could have tried to find a way to alleviate their impending cap crunch without getting worse on the ice. But, above all else, they could have gone after Simmonds, who would have been a do-it-all depth forward on this team, and, after seeing what Nashville got him for, would have come relatively cheaply. Simmonds is big, he’s tough, he can score, he can work the boards, and he’s a threat on the power-play—there’s really nothing not to like about his game, especially for a roster talented enough where he’d fit in as a third- or fourth-liner.
Here’s BriseBois again, not specifically about Simmonds, but, c’mon, it’s about Simmonds:
That’s a point that sounds good initially but makes less sense the more you think about it. Deeper is better in a sport where you have to roll lines. If you make your third line even marginally more capable of scoring, or of shutting down opponents’ top forwards, you’re better. Would that upgrade have been worth the price, especially to a team that’s going to need its draft picks to keep its would-be dynasty going once the cap crunch hits? That’s another issue altogether. So too is the notion, raised by BriseBois, that chemistry on the ice and in the locker room is a real strength for the Lightning, and it may not have been worth the risk of messing with that just to make a minor upgrade on paper.
All good questions. And, the playoffs being what they are, with a crapshoot element that means the best team doesn’t always win a series and rarely wins four straight, we’ll probably never get firm answers. The only certainty of a week ago remains a certainty today, however: The rest of the league is still chasing the Lightning.