Twenty-four games into this NHL season, I think it is safe to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning are pretty damn good.
They are tied for the highest point total in the league, have more regulation and overtime wins than every other team (i.e. true wins), and have the third-best goal differential (+21).
On a micro level, Ben Bishop has proven he’s among the elite goaltenders in the NHL, the Lightning’s young core has continued to improve and pretty much every offseason signing has been paying dividends.
But it was the combination of Marty St. Louis’ return and the trade of Eric Brewer on Friday that finally inspired me to come to you, readers of Hooked on Hockey Magazine, and say this: Steve Yzerman is a fantastic general manager.
I mean, think about these two deals.
First, Yzerman dealt an aging 38-year-old (now 39) for a top-six forward in Ryan Callahan (ten years younger than St. Louis) AND a 2014 second-round pick* AND a 2015 first-round pick. This deal, while painful for Lightning fans, looked good at the time and looks even better now.
*This second-round pick became a first-round pick when the New York Rangers made the Eastern Conference Final last season. The Lightning then traded that pick (No. 28 overall) for two more second-round picks from the New York Islanders. They used those two picks to draft 18-year-old defensemen Dominik Masin and Johnathan MacLeod, which enabled them to trade their other second-round pick (No. 50 overall) for forward Jeff Costello (who has played most of this season with the ECHL Florida Everblades), a seventh-round pick in 2015, and defenseman Jason Garrison (who has become a staple of the Lightning blue line this season). Whew. Got all that?
Second, Yzerman dealt perpetual scratch and 35-year-old defenseman Eric Brewer to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday, who desperately needed a defensive body due to recent injuries. Brewer was in the final year of his contract and has hardly seen the ice this season. With Victor Hedman returning on Saturday, there simply wasn’t room for him.
In return, the Ducks sent Edmonton’s third-round pick in the 2015 draft to the Lightning,* which they had acquired in a deal that sent goaltender Viktor Fasth to Edmonton.
*This pick will likely come early in the third round because the Oilers suck.
With this deal, Tampa Bay now has two picks in the first, third, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds of the 2015 draft, a draft that has been touted as a deep one. This deal also gives the Lightning some room to take on more salary if necessary.
Those two deals and their ripple effects have been integral in forming the team the Lightning have today. They also help shore up Lightning depth not only now, but in the future.
Finally, I’d like to mention arguably the biggest move Yzerman has made as GM: Hiring Jon Cooper. Calling Cooper up to the big leagues may be the best move the Lightning have made in the last five years. He has already proven to be a great developer of talent and always seems to push the right buttons as a coach.
Things are looking very bright in Tampa. The Lightning are ready to contend right now, and a bevy of young talent will keep things that way for years to come.
The biggest problem the Bolts have right now is that they have too many good players. Of the strong young group of J.T. Brown, Mark Barberio, Vladislav Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette and Jonathan Drouin, often three of them must be scratched to ice a legal lineup.
It may not be ideal for those guys individually, but as a team, that’s a pretty good problem to have.
What does everybody else think? Where would you rank Steve Yzerman among NHL general managers?
Taylor Gaines can be reached at TGaines@hookedonhockey.com or on Twitter @GainesTaylor.