Lightning sell early with eye on future

The Tampa Bay Lightning got an early start on trades before Monday’s deadline. Their moves made it abundantly clear that at this trade deadline they are sellers.

The trades began on Feb. 16, when 31-year-old center Dominic Moore and the Lightning’s 2012 seventh-round pick were sent to the San Jose Sharks for the Sharks’ 2012 second-rounder. Moore, in the final year of his current contract, has a cap hit of $1.1 million.

Two days later, defenseman Pavel Kubina was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for AHL winger Jon Kalinski, a second-round conditional pick (from Florida) and a 2013 fourth-rounder. Kubina, 34, is in the last year of his contract, with a $3.85 million per year cap hit and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Just a few days later, the Lightning traded tough guy Steve Downie to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Kyle Quincey. Minutes later, the Lightning shipped Quincey to the Detroit Red Wings for minor-league defenseman Sebastien Piche and the Red Wings’ first-round pick in 2012. Like Kubina, Downie was also in the last year of his contract, though the 24-year-old will be a restricted free agent this summer.

General manager Steve Yzerman is sending a clear message that the Lightning are using this trade deadline to prepare for the future. The Lightning’s playoff hopes are dwindling, so Yzerman has made the decision to put the team in a good position to be stronger next year.

With the moves, they acquire several draft picks, and now have two first-round picks in 2012. But Yzerman insinuated that depending on the situation, they may not have to use them. The picks are also bargaining chips should other trade opportunities present themselves.

"Obviously, I traded three players for draft picks. These moves are made to make us better in the future," Yzerman told reporters after the Downie trade. "Any situation that comes along from today through the trade deadline and into the offseason is something we’re willing to look at. Our picks give us options."

The picks do give the Lightning some options when it comes to future transactions, but what it doesn’t give them is bodies ready to go into the lineup — Kalinski has been assigned to the AHL, Piche to the ECHL. The Lightning have had several key injuries this season, and have often been short on roster players, resulting in a steady stream of players traveling between Norfolk and Tampa Bay.

With these trades, they lose a 20-point third-liner, a veteran defenseman who eats up nearly 20 minutes per game, including time on power-play and penalty-kill units, and a gritty winger who can also score, totaling 28 points so far this season despite spending 121 minutes in the penalty box.

To further complicate matters, the Lightning lost captain Vincent Lecavalier this week to injury. Lecavalier is out indefinitely with a non-displaced fracture in his right hand, suffered in a game Saturday. The Lightning are still without two of their top defensemen, Mattias Ohlund (knee) and Marc-Andre Bergeron, out since Feb. 9 with a back injury. As a result of the injuries and trades, the Lightning have had to call up three players from Norfolk since the beginning of the month.

It’s because of the thin roster that Yzerman said the Lightning don’t have any further plans prior to the trade deadline. That could change, of course, but the team should be done with any major transactions.

"We’re running out of bodies," Yzerman said. "I really don’t know what our plans are (prior to the deadline). We’re willing to look at anything. I don’t expect to be incredibly busy heading up to Monday."

If current conditions remain, it looks like the Lightning will be coasting into the offseason with what they have right now, which is a roster that is increasingly filling up with AHL call-ups. But Yzerman is more concerned with the future than the present since the Lightning have a very small possibility of winning any hardware this season.

Asked if the latest moves were intended to send a message to the Lightning roster, Yzerman stressed that his decisions are motivated by what every other GM in the league wants: a Stanley Cup.

"I’m trading popular players on the team for draft picks. These moves are made for the future," Yzerman said. "My only message is that I feel I have to do what I think is necessary to make us a Stanley Cup contender."

The remaining Lightning players know it’s the nature of the business, and are placing their trust in Yzerman.

"I don’t know what Steve’s plans are (for the trade deadline)," forward Steven Stamkos told reporters. "We believe in him."

Southeast Division Notes:

The Washington Capitals are in the hunt for a second-line center prior to the trade deadline, but one option went off the table Wednesday after Antoine Vermette was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Phoenix Coyotes. Vermette was rumored to be a player the Capitals were considering acquiring, but they’ll now have to turn to other options. The Capitals are expected to be one of the busier teams at the deadline, especially if Alex Ovechkin’s day-to-day lower-body injury (suffered Monday) is worse than the team is letting on. … Trade rumors that had been swirling around forward Tuomo Ruutu were silenced Wednesday after Ruutu signed a four-year, $19 million extension with the Carolina Hurricanes. "I’ve been sure about what I wanted to do, and I’m really happy that they wanted to have me here," Ruutu said in a statement. Ruutu still has about two weeks to go before he fully recovers from an upper-body injury suffered Feb. 13. … The Hurricanes announced this week that they will host an alumni fantasy game in Raleigh on April 1, an event that will allow fans to play in an informal game against Hurricanes alumni like Rod Brind’Amour and Ron Francis. … The Winnipeg Jets moved into second place in the Southeast Division this week, sparking hopes for a playoff appearance this postseason. Forward Tim Stapleton said that if the Jets were to make the playoffs, the city would become a madhouse. "We know what it would be like to play here if we made the playoffs," Stapleton told the Winnipeg Free Press. "This city might burn down. It would be awesome." … The Florida Panthers remain thin on the blue line, with injuries keeping Dmitry Kulikov (knee), Jason Garrison (ankle), and Ed Jovanovski (broken hand) out of the lineup. But the Panthers expect to be getting Jovanovski back soon – he skated with the team on Tuesday for the first time since Jan. 16. Jovanovski is itching to get back in the lineup, particularly since the team is in the midst of a three-game losing streak, but coach Kevin Dineen is holding Jovanovski back for fear of re-injury. "I’m always cautious when you’re talking about players with big hearts (like Jovanovski) that see the team has lost three in a row," Dineen told the Miami Herald.