This morning, the Tampa Bay Lightning sit 11th in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of a playoff spot. They have six wins in their last seven games, making them one of the hottest teams in the East, but they still have a lot of ground to make up in order to get close to competing for the post-season.
Tampa has 11 games between now and the Feb. 27 NHL trade deadline. In the event that the Lightning can't make up some, most, or all of that massive gap, GM Steve Yzerman may be looking to off-load some of his expiring or undesirable contracts. If the Senators remain in the thick of the playoff hunt (and, unfortunately, the current six-game losing streak is making that less likely), you would expect Bryan Murray to kick the tires on some players to see whether or not there's a fix.
According to John Fontana from Raw Charge, there seem to be four Lightning players who might be available for trade: Dominic Moore, Steve Downie, Pavel Kubina and Ryan Malone. Each brings some value to the table, and each comes with some question marks.
Seldom does a year go by when Moore isn't moved at or near the trade deadline. In January 2008, he was waived by the Minnesota Wild and picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs; in March 2009, he was traded by the Leafs to the Buffalo Sabres; in February 2010 he was moved from the Florida Panthers to the Montreal Canadiens; and he (finally) made it through a trade deadline without movement last year. For 2012, though, he looks like he might be on the move again. He is a pending UFA.
Moore's having a decent yet unspectacular season this year, with 19P (4G, 15A) in 51GP while averaging 16:14 TOI/G. That's near his career pace, but Moore can't be counted on to provide steady, reliable offence for a team heading to the playoffs. He's a decent utility player who can be moved up in the event of injuries, but shouldn't be seen as more than that. The return for Moore has historically been a second-round pick, but I'd be shocked if the Lightning got that much in exchange. Expect a third- or fourth-rounder to be enough to acquire Moore.
Downie is an interesting case. As unpopular as he is in Ottawa (and for good reason), Downie's proven a useful player, and one who can put reasonable offensive numbers when he's on the right line; this year, he has 23P (8G, 15A) in 48GP. However, since his line has historically included one of, if not the, best player in the game today, the asking price for Downie will likely be as inflated as his offensive numbers are. He's a good player, but rarely creates offence on his own.
What Downie does create on his own, though, is havoc. He's a pest, and he's an effective one. He leads the Lightning in PIM with 119 so far, more than twice as many as the next Tampa player. Only 52 of those minutes (26 penalties) have been minors, but special teams become that much more important in the post-season, those minors can be killers. If Downie becomes available, the pending RFA will find some takers from around the league, but given the abundance of pests and physical players on Ottawa, I don't think he's a fit for the Senators--especially since he'll likely net a pretty good return for Tampa.
One player who I've mentioned before and who strikes me as a good fit for Ottawa is Kubina. He's only got 11P (3G, 8A) in 47GP this season, but he's just 34 years old and remains a big (6'4", 238 lbs) and capable defender for whoever his team is. He's been credited with 80 hits, 87 shot-blocks, and averages 19:50 TOI/G. He's set to earn $3.85M this season, and is a pending UFA.
He doesn't play a lot of PP time, but Kubina's got a heck of a shot (seriously, check out his highlight reel--he doesn't score much, but when he does, it's because of his shot) and decent instincts offensively. He'd certainly be an upgrade on Brian Lee or Matt Carkner in the lineup, and would probably allow Chris Phillips and Jared Cowen to be relied on less, which looks like a necessary change on the blue line. The biggest problem with Kubina will be the asking price--suitors will look at a second-round pick as the starting point for negotiations, and it will likely go up from there.
Finally, we come to Ryan Malone, the only of the four players with term remaining on his contract: Malone is slated to earn $4.5M this year, and for three more after. And he has a no-movement clause for this season and next. But he's scored 27P (10G, 17A) in 41GP this year, and would become the closest thing to a true power-forward on the Senators lineup since Radek Bonk's days (if you can call Bonk a power forward). Malone is still only 32 years old, so he should have some good years ahead of him, and might be a good mentor for guys like Colin Greening and Nick Foligno. He'd also fit in well with either Ottawa's top line (alongside Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek) or the second line (with Kyle Turris and Daniel Alfredsson), giving Paul MacLean a lot more options than he has today, and seriously upgrading Ottawa's top-six forward corps.
It's difficult projecting what kind of return would be required for Malone. The Lightning are not interested in just giving him away, but with a heck of a lot of money owed to Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos for a long time, and decent coin going to Martin St. Louis too, Tampa would probably like a bit more flexibility. The Senators could afford to absorb Malone's contract for the next three seasons while awaiting big money contracts for their up-and-coming prospects, especially once Daniel Alfredsson's contract comes off the books. (Sniff... ) Few teams have the cap room or willingness to pick up a contract
So, which--if any--of these players would you like the Senators to acquire?