- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Lots of eyes are on the Tampa Bay Lightning these days to see what might transpire with the club that is, as of Monday, one point out of the Eastern Conference basement.
After starting the season 6-1-0, they have gone 4-13-1.
But general manager Steve Yzerman remains hopeful his club can work its way back into playoff contention. It’s not panic time in Tampa.
"We’ve kind of got past the toughest part of our schedule -- not with the results we’d like -- but we've gotten through the hardest part," Yzerman told ESPN.com Monday.
"We don’t have many back-to-backs coming up, we’re playing rested, we’re playing several home games, and we’re playing divisional opponents and other teams that we’re competing for a playoff spot with. In some respect, if we win our games, we can get right back in it."
Yzerman is working the phones, but as demonstrated by the lack of trade activity around the league, it’s easier said than done to get something that makes sense.
"To sit here and say, 'I’m going to do something big,' there’s nothing big that can be done at this time," Yzerman said. "It’s not like we just sit here and do nothing all day. You talk to people, you see if there’s anything that makes sense. For a lot of reasons it’s difficult to find a fit, to find the right players, the right salaries to make a trade. You don’t just do something to do it."
If Yzerman does act, expect a traditional hockey deal where it’s a player who helps him past this season. In other words, he’s not looking for a pending UFA/rental player.
"Rental players cost you draft picks or young players, we’re not interested in that," Yzerman said. "That’s why we signed free agents in the summer, to fill those places. If there’s a trade that makes sense where a team has a need and we have a need, then it would be addressed that way."
The Red Wings, coming off back-to-back losses to Columbus, are expecting a couple of key players back the next seven to 10 days.
"We expect [Valtteri] Filppula back this week at some point on the Western Canada trip," GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com Monday. "We’re expecting Darren Helm to come back after that trip, either at home to Minnesota or for the California trip. So we’ll get a few bodies back the next four or five games."
Nothing imminent on the trade front, Holland said as of Monday, citing the incredible closeness of the NHL standings as a major contributing factor. The veteran Wings GM believes a lot of teams need to wait closer to April 3 before deciding what they want to do.
Panthers trade bait
I don’t think the Panthers are going to shop them, but if other teams call on them, they’ll listen.
Neither player, though, is a rental.
Fleischmann has two more years on his deal after this season, which pays him $4.5 million per year. He also has a modified no-trade clause; agent Rich Evans gave the Panthers last summer a list of teams Fleischmann would be willing to move to.
Versteeg has three more years on his deal after this season, which carries a $4.4 million cap hit but pays him a bit more in salary -- $4.6 million next season and $4.7 million in each of the last two years.
The final step in making NHL realignment a go for next season will come this week when the league’s 30 owners say yea or nay via a fax vote, which is expected to be completed by the end of the week.
Some teams don’t believe the proposed framework is ideal, but in the end expect the board of governors to give it a green light without much trouble.
1dScott Burnside and Craig Custance