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Steve Yzerman talks shop as Bolts prepare for Sens

The Lightning general manager sat down with Rick Peckham during Thursday's TGH Morning Skate.

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Yzerman on the Morning Skate Show

Yzerman discusses NHL Top 100

Lightning VP and General Manager Steve Yzerman sits down with Rick Peckham on the Morning Skate Show

  • 11:49 •

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was a guest on the Bolts' Morning Skate Show this morning while the Lightning prepared for tonight's game against the Atlantic Division's Ottawa Senators.

Yzerman was on the show to talk about the 100 NHL Greatest Players list unveiled last Friday in Los Angeles as part of the All-Star Game festivities, of which Yzerman and Lightning founder Phil Esposito were included.

But in talking with Morning Skate Show host and Fox Sports Sun play-by-play announcer Rick Peckham, Yzerman also opened up about the current state of the Lightning and his plans as the March 1 trade deadline approaches.

Yzerman believes the Lightning can turn their season around and make another deep playoff run but admits the margin for error is slim with 31 games left in the regular season and the Bolts hovering near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

Video: Hedman on matchup with Senators

"We're really in playoff mode every night," Yzerman told Peckham. "You know how it is in the playoffs: You win a game, you're sky-high. You lose a game, it's the end of the world but you get ready for the next one. That's the mode we're in right now. I know we're very disappointed -- everyone's frustrated and disappointed with the loss (Tuesday) against Boston. But you've got to turn around. This is a playoff game for us tonight (against Ottawa) to win it. Had we beaten Boston, we were four points back with two games in hand. Boston went into Washington (Wednesday) night and lost in Washington. We win tonight, we're four points back with two games in hand again. So, that's the way we've got to look at it. Let's just win tonight and we'll worry about Saturday's game (against Anaheim) and get ready for that one. So, we're in the playoffs right now. We're in a dog fight, and we've got to try and figure out a way every night to win, regardless of what happened the previous game."

With less than a month until the trade deadline, there has been speculation the Lightning will wheel and deal to try to improve the team and make a push to get into the playoffs. The Bolts have already executed one trade, sending defenseman Nikita Nesterov to the Montreal Canadiens for another defenseman, Jonathan Racine, and a sixth-round pick in the upcoming NHL Draft.

Yzerman said things are quiet on the trade front right now but he expects talks to intensify once the deadline draws nearer.

"It's relatively quiet around the league for a lot of reasons," Yzerman said. "One is simply the cap. A lot of teams don't have the cap space. And another is, everybody is kind of in the fight. There's very few teams that would consider today and say, 'We're out of it…We're just going to start moving our assets.' And those teams need partners, and the teams at the top don't have the cap space and don't have the urgency to do anything, so it'll get closer to the deadline for us, or in the middle a little bit. And we're trying to win. If I could do something that helped our team make a trade that identified a need for us -- not just for this year, but going forward -- I would do that and haven't been able to do that to this point and that's been going on, really, since the draft last year."

Injuries throughout the lineup have severely tested the Lightning this season, leading to the inconsistent play that has plagued the team through much of the season. In particular, the long-term losses of captain Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, another major member of the Bolts' leadership group, have been a big blow to the Lightning this season.

Combined, the two have played just 35 games.

Yzerman said both are working hard to return to the team, which would provide a big boost to the lineup for the stretch run.

"For both players, we don't have a return-to-play date to announce or to predict yet," Yzerman said. "It's still, for Stammer, relatively early. Again, the procedure that he had -- in the big picture -- is very positive. They were able to repair the cartilage, and so far, every indication is that healing is right on course and it's going to heal and he's going to be fine. And that's the best-case scenario is to repair the cartilage and you go on and you resume your career. So, that's good. It's still relatively early to have a date and say he's going to be back -- March 15, April 1 or whatnot. So, he's progressing well. He was out and saw the doctors that did the surgery I think last week, and they're pleased with how he looks and where he's at today, and all he can do is work towards a return date. But I don't have a date for you yet. Cally's a little bit different. We've tried some things. He's had obviously some issues that have been recurring since coming back from surgery, and it's kept him out of the lineup. Right now, he's just in a phase where he's strengthening. We're trying to get him back to 100 percent strength, and get him back to play. When he returns to play, I don't have a date for you for that either, but both guys are progressing in the right direction."

Video: Bowness on Bolts' matchup with OTT

The Lightning have relied on their farm team in Syracuse for reinforcements because of the numerous injuries. The Bolts have used 34 different players in 2016-17, second-most in the NHL, and five different players - Brayden Point, Tanner Richard, Jake Dotchin, Matthew Peca and Adam Erne - have made their NHL debut this season.

One silver lining with the injury bug, Yzerman said, is it's given the Lightning a chance to evaluate a number of their prospects, and those evaluations have been generally positive.

"A lot of the players have come up and they've all done really well," Yzerman said. "We're very pleased. Right now, (Michael) Bournival is injured, but Gabriel Dumont just gets better and better every game. Jake (Dotchin) is in the lineup now and doing very well. All the players we've had up have done well. We're really pleased they've contributed and helped us win games. So, there's a positive. We've got a chance to assess some of our young guys, even Adam Erne, who's hurt, unfortunately, but he came up and played four games -- much sooner than we anticipated. He's having a very good year in Syracuse. He got a look at four regular-season games, and we're excited about what we see in him. We think he's going to be a good NHL player, and a need that we have is a big, strong, powerful winger that can play either wing and probably could play in the middle as well, if we needed to, because he has experience at that."

ICE CHIPS: Former Lightning head coach Guy Boucher makes his return to AMALIE Arena in his first season as the main man in charge of the Senators. Boucher went 97-79-20 in three seasons with the Lightning and guided the Bolts to the 2011 Eastern Conference Final and within a game of the Stanley Cup Final. "My walk to the locker room is a little bit longer this time," Boucher joked, referring to the distance between the home locker room and the visitors locker room at AMALIE. "…It's good to be back."…Michael Bournival (upper-body injury) returned to the ice for the Bolts' optional morning skate and wore a red no-contact jersey. Bournival has missed the last two games…Andrei Vasilevskiy was the first goaltender off the ice and is slated to start tonight versus Ottawa. Vasilevskiy has allowed exactly two goals in each of his last four starts, and since January 13, the Russian netminder ranks third in the NHL for save percentage (.940) and fourth for goals-against average (1.86) among goalies with multiple starts…Associate head coach Rick Bowness said he's surprised how quickly recent callup Jake Dotchin has assimilated to the NHL level and will be giving the defenseman more responsibility as he continues to prove himself. "We didn't get a whole lot of good looks at him in training camp, and then you get great reports and you hope what you're hearing you're going to see and that he can continue to do here what he did (in Syracuse)," Bowness said. "So far, he has certainly done that. That's why he's playing 20 minutes and tonight we'll probably get him into some penalty-killing situations and see how he handles that, keep growing him a little bit."

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