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Tampa wheels, deals

So many trades coach doesn't know who's left

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2This is what a week of sudden roster turnover has done to Guy Boucher, the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It's conditioned him to think that when his pocket starts to buzz, bad news -- or news that's difficult to swallow, to be more precise -- is about to be broken on the other end.

Welcome to a coach's hell: Knowing a handful of timely wins gets you into the playoff picture, only to see there might not be enough pieces on the roster to make it happen.

"Hopefully, we don't have another one traded today," Boucher told reporters Thursday morning.

Here's the deal: General manager Steve Yzerman is not waiting around to see if his club can make one final push towards an eighth-place position and has declared them open for business. Gone are forwards Dominic Moore (traded to San Jose), Steve Downie (Colorado), and Pavel Kubina (Philadelphia), with only draft picks coming back to the Bolts.

Yzerman is a seller.

The coach and the players aren't buying in, though.

"It's been tough for some of the players to manage it but we've shown, whether it's last year or this year, a lot of character," said Boucher, living proof that players aren't the only ones stressed heading into Monday's NHL trade deadline. "We've had injures all year. We basically never play with our full lineup and it keeps on going. We're starting to get used to adversity."

The Lightning, just five points out of a playoff spot with games in hand heading into Thursday's action, aren't out of it but they're one of the first Eastern Conference bubble teams -- Winnipeg, Washington, Toronto are the others -- to state their intentions. They're looking at tomorrow, embarking on a plan that keeps their core stars together while adding valuable assets (Tampa has five picks in the first two rounds in the next draft), and they do all of this under unexpected circumstances.

Before meeting the Jets, the Lightning won 10 of their last 15 games and appear to be pointed in the right direction.

Are they out of time, though? Veteran forward Ryan Malone said the players have tried to beat back the flames of a fire sale not with towels, but with a more determined effort on the ice. He understands what Yzerman is doing -- not many players are going to question their GM -- but believes the room views it as a challenge.

We don't have the horses? We'll show you.

"A lot of us got to where we are by proving people wrong," Malone said. "It's always fun to do that. That's the reason why you play the games at the end of the year here, because you never know what might happen... long way to go still."

These days, the extra time Boucher gains by not checking his phone is used adjusting his ever-evolving lineup, so forgive him if he misses a message or three. Thursday morning, reporters had questions about Tim Wallace, a forward the club just plucked off the waiver wire. Confusion about the player surfaced, so Boucher went into the visiting coach's office to double-check the name following the scrum.

"I was hoping it was William Wallace," he said with a smirk afterwards.

Nice thought, but careful what you wish for. If the fearless 13th Century Scotsman who took on the English army could skate, he might be on the trading block, too.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2012 C3

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