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Blake Coleman is a worthwhile gamble for Lightning

February 17, 2020, 5:33 PM ET [1 Comments]
Ty Anderson
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The Tampa Bay Lightning decided to throw the first real punch of the Atlantic Division trade deadline arms race on Sunday, acquiring versatile forward Blake Coleman from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for prospect Nolan Foote and a conditional first-round draft pick.

There’s a little bit of sticker shock when it comes to the price paid for Coleman, but if the math checks out (and it appears to do exactly that), the Bolts are doing anything but overpaying for Coleman.

Trapped on a straight-up horrendous New Jersey squad with few bright spots in a year with expectations that were flushed down the toilet by November, the 5-foot-11 Coleman was in the midst of a career-year prior to his trade. With 21 goals and 31 points through 57 games, Coleman was just one goal and five points shy of matching last year’s career-best marks, and with 21 games to go.

And go back to the start of last year, and Coleman ranks 67th in the NHL in goals scored, with 43. He also one of just four players to score at least 20 goals and total 200 hits last season, joining a list featuring the Jackets’ Josh Anderson and the Washington one-two of Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson (That’s some damn good company to find yourself in when talking about being a unique talent.) Break it down by rates, and Coleman has averaged the 30th-most goals per 60 minute of even-strength time on ice since the start of last year. If you’re looking for under-the-radar studs, Coleman’s there.

That production alone would suggest that a first-round pick is worth it if you’re the win-now Lightning.

Which is a hugely, hugely important thing to consider here.

I mean, just look at where the Lightning are right now as a franchise.

One year after they had a record-matching regular season only to get swept out of the first round by the Blue Jackets, the Lightning stumbled out of the gate, but have undoubtedly found theri game with 22 wins in their last 25 games. They’re straight-up barreling down on the NHL-best Bruins for the top of the division (and league), and sit just three points behind the Black and Gold and have a game in hand on their side. And this isn’t the first time that the Lightning have looked close to being “there.”

Since this new core was formed in Tampa, the Lightning have done almost nothing but come up short to the eventual champions. They dropped the 2015 Stanley Cup Final to the Blackhawks in six games, and then dropped seven-game, third-round series against the Penguins in 2016 and Capitals in 2018.

It’s basically been one penis-kick after another for Jon Cooper and Steven Stamkos. (Eventually you do this long enough where you can use ‘penis-kick’ in a column and nobody bats an eye.)

It’s also not going to get any easier for the Lightning, and this year is where it gets real tricky.

The Lightning are currently staring at a summer featuring a projected $6.25 million in cap space. With a core like this already signed for the long haul, that typically wouldn’t be a problem, but the Lightning have just three NHL defensemen signed beyond this season, and this summer will need to come with a new contract for breakout star and pending restricted free agent Anthony Cirelli. This is also the final year of Andrei Vasilevskiy making an affordable $3.5 million, as his cap hit will jump to a staggering $9.5 million in 2020-21. That’s $6 million wiped off the board, and at just one position.

In other words, another J.T. Miller-like cut is coming to the Lightning this summer. It could come for Tyler Johnson (for like the millionth year in a ro) or Ondrej Palat ($5.3 million cap hit through 2022) or maybe even Alex Killorn ($4.45 million cap hit for this year and another three after that).

Coleman, meanwhile, is signed through the 2020-21 season, and at just $1.8 million.

This is the exact kind of player and contract you acquire to maximize -- and even extend -- your (uncertain) window to win a championship. And Tampa Bay acquired that player without dramatically changing the long-term outlook of their franchise.

Keep in mind that the Lightning moved the first-round pick they acquired from the Canucks to acquire Coleman. That pick converts to a 2021 first-round selection should the Canucks, who begin the week three points clear of the second wild card spot in the West, fail to qualify for postseason play. This means that the Lightning still possess their own first-round selection. This was basically some free candy for the Bolts to play with and use to address their team’s chances of winning a championship, and gave them obvious negotiation advantages over Coleman’s other suitors (the B’s and Avalanche).

Say it with me now: Worth it.

Here are some other quick thoughts and notes from around the NHL...

- I still expect the Bruins to land Tyler Toffoli by the deadline, but I’m curious if the Coleman add for the Bolts makes the Bruins reconsider their options. I believe the Bruins have taken a “he’ll be there at the deadline, so why rush when better options better emerge?” approach with the Kings’ Toffoli, but now it could be a “does Toffoli make us better than Tampa?” kind of question. New York winger and Massachusetts native Chris Kreider remains a name to watch, as does the Jackets’ Josh Anderson and New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, but do the Bruins have the stomach for the prices of such talents? They might have to develop one if Coleman elevates an already-rolling Lightning club even higher.

EDIT: The Canucks acquired Toffoli like 20 minutes after I wrote this, so I guess I'll go to hell.

- Nothing Evander Kane said about the NHL Department of Player Safety in the immediate aftermath of his three-game suspension was incorrect. The system is a joke, and it’s a complete guessing game. We used to have problems with game-to-game consistency, but we’re not seeing period-to-period inconsistencies at alarming rates. There’s no standard for anything anymore. It’s brutal.

- Does the Dustin Byfuglien situation get resolved before the deadline? Seems pretty important. The 34-year-old Byfuglien hasn’t played all year, but if his contract is terminated in time for the deadline, Byfuglien immediately becomes the best defenseman on the market. Part of that has to do with Buff’s past accomplishments, sure, but it really comes because he could be had for nothin’ but cash.

Ty Anderson is a writer, columnist, and weird personality for 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, where he covers all things Boston sports. He has been covering the National Hockey League for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, and has also been part of the Boston Chapter of the PHWA since 2013. He will not give you his email, so yell at him on Twitter (@_TyAnderson).
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