Predictably, Steve Yzerman was not happy in the aftermath of yesterday's trade with the New York Rangers. After all, he was painted in a corner by his 38-year old star winger with little wiggle room to negotiate a deal that would make his team better with the playoffs approaching.
But there's one thing the trade did grant Tampa Bay's disgruntled general manager: organizational depth far greater than any other organization in the league.
Although the departure of Martin St. Louis likely foreshadows the demise Lightning's chances of being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in the East in 2014, it puts them in an incredible position to become a major player this summer, namely at June's NHL Entry Draft.
Yzerman has built an organization from the ground up in Tampa that likely won't be fading any time soon. The return of Steven Stamkos from a rather gruesome leg injury earlier this season will buoy the team's chances this season. Breakout seasons from the likes of Victor Hedman and goaltender Ben Bishop–another coup by Yzerman at last year's trade deadline– have helped carry the Bolts this far already. The addition of Ryan Callahan will certainly help as well, even if he's hardly as offensively gifted as St. Louis.
But with the top-rated prospect pool according to HockeysFuture.com, and a slew of future studs on the way headlined by 2013 third-overall pick Jonathan Drouin, the onus is firmly where it belongs in Tampa: the increasingly near future.
As a result of yesterday's trade, the Lightning have two first-round picks in the 2015 draft, whose class is already being touted as potentially as deep as the 2013 class. They also have New York's second-round selection in 2014, and if the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Finals, that will turn into their first-rounder.
This summer is the time to invest in a young, yet proven, talent to play alongside Stamkos. Because even if he re-signs, we can all be pretty sure Callahan isn't quite up to the task. Besides, the Lightning aren't known to sign muck-and-grind type players to long extensions. Oh wait, nevermind.
Ideally, a player like Evander Kane, who has been the target of trade rumors for years, would be a perfect fit. Possessing one of the most lethal shots in the game, it's somewhat terrifying to consider what he might do when teaming up with a player of Stamkos' caliber.
Other players rumored to potentially be leaving Edmonton, such as Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle or Nail Yakupov would also fit the mold. Thomas Vanek, who wouldn't cost the team any tangible assets besides dollars, will likely be the crown jewel of this year's free agent market. Notorious co-pilot Matt Moulson is still skating off John Tavares' coattails, but would be an attractive and perhaps cost-effective option as well.
But there's no guarantee you can convince either to sign. The emphasis should be on draft day. Yzerman has a number of key pieces in addition to Drouin, such as Nikita Kucherov, Slater Koekkoek and Andrey Vasilevsky. Remember that goalie who totally stymied Yzerman's Canadian juggernaut for two and a half periods in Sochi? They have him too.
As much is made about the trade deadline, the NHL Entry Draft is when you see some of the year's biggest moves. Expect the Lightning to be at the forefront of this year's rumors. It could be the difference between watching the Stanley Cup Final at home, and being there to hoist it in person.