At 2:59 A.M. on March 1, 2015 the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired defenseman Braydon Coburn from the Philadelphia Flyers. For Coburn, the Lightning sent Philadelphia a 1st and 3rd round pick in the 2015 draft along with defenseman Radko Gudas. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman made this late night acquisition in order to add a veteran presence to a young playoff-bound team. At the time, the Lightning featured a roster composed of players whose primary playoff experience was being swept out by the Montreal Canadiens one year prior.
Even though the Lightning had multiple first and third-round picks in the 2015 draft, and received two 2nd round picks from the Boston Bruins for Brett Connolly that same evening, this trade received mixed reactions from Lightning fans. While Coburn was a proven veteran, he was far from a flashy player statistically. He had only one goal and nine assists during the 2014-15 and really lacked that wow factor for what the Lightning gave up.
Coburn Paid off for the Lightning
Despite Coburn being injured shortly after the Lightning acquired him, he was able to return for the first round match-up versus the Detroit Red Wings. In this series, he went on to score the winning goal in Game Seven, a moment that will forever be remembered in the Lightning’s history. While this goal alone made the steep cost of acquiring Coburn worth it for the Lightning, he went on to be an important role player during the playoffs. While playing on the second defensive pairing with Jason Garrison, Coburn took on close to 17 minutes a night throughout the Lightning’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
After the playoffs ended, part two of the Coburn trade came to fruition. A major reason why Yzerman traded for Coburn instead of other options at the deadline was due to his being under contract for the 2015-16 season. This made him more than an expensive playoff rental, allowing the Lightning to build around the veteran for one more year.
As per the course, Coburn played a consistent but unexciting veteran role with the Lightning throughout the season. In late February, less than a year after trading for him, the Lightning re-signed Coburn to a 3-year extension through 2018-19 season. This contract carried a $3.7 million cap-hit, giving the Lightning a reasonably affordable veteran on their blue line for three more seasons.
Coburn Was the Perfect Yzerman Trade
Since taking over as the Lightning’s GM in 2010, Yzerman has made one thing consistently clear: play for the now while building for the future. Rarely has he given up future assets for short-term gain. When he did give up these resources, it was either for a player with a year left on his contract, or someone he wanted to pursue in free-agency anyways.
The Coburn trade is the perfect example of Yzerman’s plan in motion. First, he only gave up futures that
he had a surplus of. Even if you don’t take the Connolly trade into account, which Yzerman said was a lynchpin of the Coburn acquisition, the Lightning still had a pick in every round of the 2015 draft. So by managing his resources properly at the start of the year, Yzerman set himself up for a big trade at the deadline without forgoing the future.
Three Years Later, Where Are the Lightning Now?
In retrospect, we can look back and see just how this trade has worked out for the Lightning in the long term. Starting off with their big trade, Coburn became an important part of the blueline for the last three and a half seasons. While he has found himself taking on a reduced role on the third line this season, Coburn still has been a reasonably solid defenseman most nights.
Even though the Lightning gave up two high draft picks in this trade, their prospect pool hasn’t been worse for the wear. By trading Connolly for second-round picks in 2015 and 2016, Yzerman gave himself plenty of room to make deals at the draft. This allowed the 2015 draft class to produce some of the best prospects currently for the organization. Six current AHL rookies came out the 2015 draft, including AHL All-Star Mitchell Stephens and Anthony Cirelli.
While it is impossible to know how much the Lightning could have benefitted from two more high draft picks in the 2015 draft, they didn’t necessarily need them either. This means that the Lightning not only got Coburn, a defenseman they needed for both the short and long-term success but also a solid draft class to restock for the future. As they say, Yzerman managed to both have his cake and eat it too.