During mid-season meetings with his coaching and professional scouting staff, the Lightning management team, headed by general manager Julien BriseBois, identified a need for two strong, physical, heavy, hard-to-play-against forwards that could be added to the current group of Lightning players and really make the group a more competitive team now and a more dangerous team come playoffs.
Tasked with finding who might those forwards be, Lightning staff identified two players that fit best with what Tampa Bay was looking for as well as players that were signed to contracts that provided good value from a salary cap standpoint and were signed for longer than just the end of the 2019-20 season.
Those two forwards were Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.
Last week, the Lightning landed their first target, acquiring Coleman from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for forward prospect Nolan Foote and a 2020 First Round draft pick that will become a 2021 First Round selection if Vancouver misses the playoffs. Coleman has played two games with the Lightning since joining the team in Las Vegas and has proved his value as a relentless puck hound who never takes a shift off, hits, blocks shots, kill penalties and complements the group of forwards the Bolts already have under contract.
On Monday's trade deadline day, the Lightning captured their second target, getting Goodrow from the San Jose Sharks. Around 4:45 p.m., nearly two hours after the deadline had passed, Tampa Bay announced it had received Goodrow and a 2020 Third Round pick from the Sharks in exchange for the Bolts' 2020 First Round selection (their original pick in the draft) and F Anthony Greco, who the Lightning scored a couple days ago in a trade with Florida.
In Goodrow, the Lightning get a physical center with size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) who is signed through the 2020-21 season at a very affordable cap hit. Goodrow has put up career highs for goals (8), assists (16) and points (24) this season, ranks second on the Sharks for hits (140), first among San Jose forwards for blocked shots (63) and first among Sharks forwards for average shorthanded time on ice (2:27) on the NHL's top-ranked penalty kill.
"These were the two guys we felt were the best fit for our organization to help us win this year and help us maintain our competitiveness going into next season as well," BriseBois said during a media session addressing the moves made on trade deadline day. "This time of year, it's just the reality, you're going to pay a premium. If you're a buyer, you're going to pay a premium for whatever players you end up acquiring. If you're a seller, you're out there and you're looking to maximize your return on the assets, the contract, the player you're moving, but I was in the buyer's chair and my mindset was it's not about value maximization, it's about winning hockey games. And I look at our team with Blake Coleman in there and I look at our team with Barclay Goodrow in there and we're a better team now and we're going to be a harder team to take out come springtime with the addition of these two players.
According to BriseBois, the Lightning have had their eye on Goodrow for the last couple of months. He's a physical center, he plays with an edge and he's been thrust into a larger role for San Jose this season due to injuries and has come into his own with the added responsibility.
"He's been up against some really good players and matched up against some really good players and handled it well," BriseBois said. "I think he's somewhat of an underrated player, a player that's kind of now hitting his stride and kind of coming into his peak play and was given an opportunity this year to showcase himself and show he can handle more and he's done really well."
By adding Goodrow, the Lightning re-assigned center Mitchell Stephens to the Syracuse Crunch, where he will remain unless injuries necessitate a recall. BriseBois said what Stephens showed him this season while he was with the Lightning bodes well for his future. He did well on face-offs, on the penalty kill and on the forecheck while generating some offensive chances. Stephens also showed he's ready for a larger role in the NHL with the Lightning next season as long as he earns it through his play with the Crunch for the remainder of the season and in training camp next season.
"We've added two forwards [Coleman and Goodrow] that are a little more battle tested and have more experience and are a little more established," BriseBois said of the move to re-assign Stephens. "He can go back to Syracuse and keep working on his game, keep working on playing the center position and come back a better player next time."
Video: GM Julien BriseBois on the deadline deals
Additionally, the Lightning signed unrestricted free agent defenseman Zach Bogosian on Sunday to address depth concerns on the blue line considering the number of injuries the Bolts have suffered of late at that position. BriseBois said Ryan McDonagh is 10 to 14 days from returning, Jan Rutta is three to four weeks away and Erik Cernak is day-to-day and could play as soon as tomorrow against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a relief considering Cernak's injury looked more severe than it turned out to be.
Once Rutta, who plays a lot of minutes for the Lightning paired alongside Victor Hedman, went down with a long-term injury, BriseBois said he started focusing on finding a right-shot defenseman to shore up that side. When Bogosian's contract was terminated by the Sabres and he cleared waivers, the Lightning pursued him.
"We didn't have to give up any asset to acquire his services," BriseBois said. "The cap space was very affordable for us at this point. Zach wasn't really worried about what he was getting paid, he was more worried about going to an environment where he has a chance to win a Stanley Cup. We're a contender and with him we're a better team. He's another guy who brings some physicality, some size on the back end, is hard to play against, and I think he also makes us a better team. He's going to be a good complement to whichever one of our left-shot defensemen he gets paired with, whether it's Hedman or McDonagh or (Mikhail) Sergachev, he's going to be a good complement to those guys."
In Bogosian, the Lightning are getting a "motivated" player because of how his time in Buffalo ended and the fact he'll be playing for a new contract this offseason.
"I think having seen him play, more so last season I thought that was the best hockey he's ever played, the hockey he played last season for the Sabres," BriseBois said. "Obviously, he had the hip surgery. You never know how quickly you're going to recover from any type of surgery, but he's motivated. I know he's been skating, and I think he's going to be a good complement to our players and come playoff-time, his style of play is going to be a good asset for us there on the back end."
As far as what the Lightning gave up to acquire Coleman, Goodrow and, to a lesser extent, Bogosian, BriseBois said he felt it was a necessary evil in an attempt to give this team it's best chance for success this postseason and in future seasons too.
"Ultimately, when you're at the deadline and you're a buyer, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't," he said. "I decided I was going to take the risk of being damned if I do. So we aggressively pursued these players and we paid what we had to pay to get them and make us the best team possible going into the playoffs this year."