MONTREAL The Lightning shuffled a few cards on Friday, making one minor trade to improve the defense, welcoming back a top-six forward and hoping another will be back soon from injury.
Tampa Bay sent 25-year-old center Blair Jones to the Calgary Flames in exchange for 24-year-old defenseman Brendan Mikkelson in hopes of improving a banged up defensive corps.
In addition, 19-year-old left wing Brett Connolly rejoined the team after spending the past month on loan to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships, where he helped his country win a bronze medal.
Mikkelson and Connolly are expected to be in the lineup tonight as Tampa Bay concludes a three-game road trip in Montreal.
The return of Connolly became a necessity after forwards Adam Hall and JT Wyman suffered undisclosed upper-body injuries on Thursday in Ottawa that will keep them out of tonight's game. Left wing Ryan Malone, who missed the past two games with a lower body injury, seems ready to return after skating on his own Friday, but is listed as day-to-day by the team.
In case Malone cannot play, the team recalled forward Pierre-Cedric Labrie from the Norfolk Admirals. Labrie joined the team Friday night in Montreal and is available, if needed.
The Lightning also reassigned defenseman Evan Oberg to the Admirals.
Of all the movement taking place on Friday, the acquisition of Mikkelson is the most notable.
A former second-round draft pick by Anaheim in 2005, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman played this season for the Abbottsford Heat in the American Hockey League after signing a one-year contract with Calgary. In 33 games with the Heat, Mikkelson had three goals, 15 points and was plus-one.
Though not considered an offensive defenseman, Mikkelson skates well for his size, an attribute Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman pinpointed in making the deal.
"We felt we needed to get bigger on the blue line and I think he gives us a little more depth and he's a real good skater,'' Yzerman said. "I would say that skating might be his best strength.
"He can skate the puck up the ice, and I wouldn't describe him strictly as an offensive-minded defenseman or a defensive-minded defenseman. I just think his game is as a guy who can skate the puck up. He makes a good first pass so he has the ability to move it.''
When Mikkelson, who will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, was placed on waivers by Anaheim last season, Yzerman said he contemplated putting in a claim on him before he ended up with Calgary. In 86 career NHL games Mikkelson has six assists and 40 penalty minutes. He has not appeared in more than 34 NHL games in a season, that coming his rookie year with Anaheim in 2008-09.
In giving up Jones – who had career highs with two goals and four points in 22 games this season – it becomes an even swap of similar needs for both teams and reunites Jones with Calgary general manager Jay Feaster, who drafted him in the fourth round in 2005 while with Tampa Bay.
"We both were trying to make a deal that made sense, and they are both similar type players as far as age and their careers, sort of knocking on the door of the NHL,'' Yzerman said. "So, they are sort of in the same asset class, so to speak, and they were looking for a forward and I was looking to acquire a defenseman that gives us some depth and still has the potential to be an NHL player.
"It was a fit for both parties.''
The return of Connolly, the sixth overall pick in 2010, will serve as a boost after the 19-year-old scored five goals in six games while being named one of Canada's top three players at the World Junior Championships.
In 28 games with the Lightning before being loaned to Team Canada, the rookie had four goals and eight points.
On the team's latest injuries, Yzerman said Hall could be out for a while pending further evaluation when the team returns home after Saturday's game. Hall did not return to the ice after a first-period fight with Ottawa's Matt Carkner.
Wyman, however, does not appear to be as severe as Hall, according to Yzerman, and will be listed as day-to-day.