Despite Steven Stamkos’ long-term injury at the start of the season, few picked the Tampa Bay Lightning to miss the playoffs. They’ve gone through this before without their captain multiple times — when he broke his leg and when he suffered from blood clots.
However, this season has been different. The trade deadline is less than four weeks away and the Lightning sit only one point away from last in the Eastern Conference.
Steve Yzerman has been patient over time with his roster, as exhibited by the situation with Jonathan Drouin last year, but a shakeup may be coming. Tampa Bay has too much talent to be suffering this badly.
One name that could pop up in trade chatter during the next few weeks: Tyler Johnson.
Johnson, 26, had a breakout year with Tampa Bay in the 2014-2015 season with 72 points in 77 games. Last season he dipped mightily with 38 points in 69 games. This year, he is on pace for 49 points in 82 games.
Johnson has fought his way through the ranks as a small forward (listed at 5 feet 8 inches) and has established himself as an NHL caliber forward, but his play lately is concerning. As an upcoming RFA, getting his pay raise off the books would be quite helpful for the Lightning.
Another motive to trading Johnson could come on behalf of the expansion draft. If Johnson is traded for an exempt player and/or prospects/picks, it would open up a slot for Tampa Bay to protect another forward.
They could do something along the lines of the following up front: Stamkos (NMC), Callahan (NMC), Filppula (NMC), Kucherov, Palat, Drouin, and Killorn. If they trade or buy out Filppula, it would open up a slot for Vlad Namestnikov to be protected as well.
Trading Johnson after he showed so much promise is a tough pill to swallow. But with the way things have been going recently for both player and team, it may be the right move to make.