Watching the Tampa Bay Lightning lose 6-1 in Toronto on Monday was downright painful.
The Lightning were mediocre in the first period and then, when Brad Richards went down with a leg injury in the second, Tampa Bay allowed four goals in just over four minutes and were done.
And at the end of the night, it became abundantly clear a shakeup is in order if this team is going to make the playoffs. Even a big win in Montreal the next night does little to suggest the Lightning have what it takes to be a playoff success. The team's goaltending is questionable, the blue line is D-light (as opposed to a delight) and the third and fourth lines are weak.
It doesn't help matters that the team's best defenseman, Dan Boyle, is injured. But even with Boyle in the lineup, the Lightning are a long, long way off from being close to the Stanley Cup-winning team it was in 2004. It's not as though adding Boyle will automatically propel the Bolts up the standings.
And with each passing day, it becomes more evident GM Jay Feaster is going to have to trade one of the Big Three -- Vincent Lecavalier, Richards or Martin St. Louis. This is not a new notion, but it becomes more relevant with each passing day.
The question is, which one? Feaster has tried to be patient, but has indicated he would trade one of the Big Three if that's what it takes for his team to be competitive again.
Lecavalier would most certainly fetch the biggest return, but he is also the team's -- some suggest the league's -- best player and at 27, he has plenty of productive years ahead of him.
St. Louis, who skates on the same line as Lecavalier and is 32 years old, is a solid two-way player who makes others who play with him better.
Richards has had a hard time finding his game the past two years, but at 27, there are still those who believe he can be a force in the league, a lower-case Joe Sakic, if you will. A strong power-play performer (he usually plays the point and often stays out the entire two minutes), Richards is minus-10 this season after going minus-19 last season. He is minus-40 in his career. That said, Richards is considered a valuable team leader.
All three are decorated. St. Louis led the NHL in scoring and was named most valuable player in 2004; Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP the same season and, a few months later, Lecavalier was the MVP of the World Cup. He won the Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in goals last season.
Making the prospect of a deal more complicated is the fact that of the three, only Lecavalier does not have a no-trade clause in his contract. For Feaster to trade Richards or St. Louis, he would need their permission.
Richards might be inclined to move to a team where he can play on the top line, but it's hard to imagine St. Louis wanting to leave Lecavalier's side -- unless, of course, his new team was interested in signing him to a contract extension.
Tampa Bay made a commitment to its best three players, but in doing so, the cupboard has been left bare. The Lightning couldn't afford to keep Cup-winning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and have struggled in net since his departure. Defenseman Pavel Kubina, who had 17 goals the year Tampa won the Cup, left town for a boatload of money in Toronto.
So what could the Lightning possibly get for any of the Big Three? Would it be a pie-in-the-sky notion to suggest the Montreal Canadiens would surrender hot goalie prospect Carey Price in a package to get Lecavalier?
Ah, it is fun to dream. Then again, Feaster is dreaming if his thinks his team, as it stands now, has a hope in hell of winning another Cup.
Mike Brophy's Double OT appears regularly on thehockeynews.com.
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