As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, the Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Tampa Bay Lightning offseason.
Tampa Bay Lightning Offseason Primer
The Tampa Bay Lightning are back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions! After taking a seat atop the NHL’s throne, the Lightning kept the group together for one more go around. However, there were circumstances that aided in their abilities to hold onto a very similar roster makeup.
Last offseason, the Lightning parted ways with Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian, and Carter Verhaeghe, to name a few. However, they would have lost far more had it not been for Nikita Kucherov’s hip surgery that landed him on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), taking his $9,500,000 cap hit off the books. The move to send Kucherov on LTIR, though risky, paved the way for Tampa Bay to re-sign Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev, and Anthony Cirelli to a combined $12,550,000 cap hit per year. With some cap juggling, they also added David Savard at the trade deadline, with a $1,062,500 salary cap hit, as both Detroit and Columbus retained salary on Savard’s contract. His presence made the Lightning blue line even deeper.
During the season, in their new division, the Lightning finished with a record of 36-17-3, finishing third behind the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. They managed that without Kucherov. Brayden Point led the way with 48 points in 56 games, with Ondrej Palat and Victor Hedman right behind with 46 and 45 points, respectively. In order for a three-peat, the Lightning won’t have it as easy. This offseason will be a very long one for Julien BriseBois and Co.
Tampa Bay Lightning Pending Free Agents
The Lightning have five key Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA’s). Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, David Savard, Curtis McElhinney and Luke Schenn are the five they’ll try to retain. Additionally, they have three Restricted Free Agents (RFA’s) to bring back. Those RFA’s are Ross Colton, Alex Barre-Boulet and Cal Foote.
Coleman and Goodrow have been a part of the Lightning grind line. Jon Cooper loved throwing this line out for every single situation, saying “They don’t give a rat’s ass who they’re playing against.” Losing that kind of line, or even part of it, makes things more difficult for Cooper and the coaching staff.
Savard took a little while to warm up and grow accustomed to the Lightning scheme and linemates, but once he settled in, he was solid. He played a bottom-pairing role with Sergachev, drawing into key defensive zone shifts against tough competition. Schenn was more of a rotating piece on the back-end, but when the team needed a little bit more snarl, Schenn provided that, and then some.
Lastly, McElhinney played a very small role behind the dominant Vasilevskiy. He was criticized heavily by Lightning fans, as he did struggle. However, the team also struggled in front of him very often, and he could not mask their mistakes like Vasilevskiy can.
Salary Cap Outlook
It just simply does not look good at the moment for Tampa Bay. They’re currently at a cap hit of $85,016,666 with just 17 players on the NHL roster under contract. That’s $3,516,666 over the cap!
Tampa Bay Lightning Major Likely Departures
The Lightning tried to move Johnson last off-season, with him submitting a small list of teams he would accept a trade to. This year, his full no-trade clause became modified, giving the Lightning more leverage. On top of that, Johnson had a strong playoff performance in a fourth-line role, recording seven points. Odds are, he gets traded, along with a sweetener, to some team ahead of the Expansion Draft.
Killorn was another strong playoff contributor, scoring 17 points in the postseason. He was another name floating around in trade rumours, last offseason, but nothing went past rumours. This year, it could be more than rumours, and the Edmonton Oilers are a name to watch for. As much as Lightning fans would hate seeing their excellent social media influencer and host of the famous “Dock Talk” depart, he’s a likely cap casualty.
Palat is yet another guy who Lightning fans do not want to see leave. His 13 playoff points, along with how much heart he pours onto the ice alongside Point and Kucherov, will be sorely missed if he does leave. With the Seattle expansion upcoming, and the Lightning potentially being one of the teams electing to take the eight-skater protection scheme, Palat will be exposed. It’s also a safe bet that they’ll move some future assets to protect Cal Foote and Ross Colton, as they need young guys with cheaper contracts on their roster for next season.
The Lightning 2021 deadline addition is the first FA on the list of departures. As mentioned earlier, it took him time to settle in, but he was a key piece of the roster when he did. The Lightning paid a pretty penny to acquire him, but they got a Stanley Cup for it, and they won’t mind it if that’s where “Savvy’s” contributions end.
To put it nicely, Lightning fans might be a little happy to see his name on this list. As unfair as it is to put a lot of blame on McElhinney for how he performed this year, it wasn’t pretty at all. The Lightning could look elsewhere for a backup, and they won’t need a very expensive option as Vasilevskiy will play a very large amount of the games next season if health allows for it.
This one hurts the most. Coleman, also known as “Pickles,” is the epitome of a team player. When he was acquired by the Lightning last year, he immediately gained chemistry with Yanni Gourde and Goodrow. His speed and scoring ability, to pair with how hard he played on every single shift was phenomenal to watch. That said, it seems he has completely priced himself out of Tampa Bay. Unless he loves it in Tampa and wants to run it back for a very below-market value contract, he’s as good as gone. With these departures, the Lightning are left with $11,233,334 in cap space.
Tampa Bay Lightning Major Likely Re-Signings
The kid who scored the game-winning and Cup-clinching goal in game five. Ross “the boss” Colton is projected to get a contract at an average annual value (AAV) of $1,454,000 for a two-year contract. With this deal, the Lightning are now left with $9,779,334 in cap space.
This name being under re-signings might surprise some people. However, he is projected to have an AAV salary of $2,449,000 for a three-year deal. That is extremely affordable, and if they free up the space that they do with the above departures, they can easily fit him in. This deal will leave Tampa Bay with $7,330,334 remaining.
The young defender earned a role for a stretch before the trade deadline and played fairly well doing so. However, he still has a way to go before he becomes a key piece of the Lightning defence core. That being said, he may be handed the keys to a partnership with Hedman next year due to the cap situation Tampa is in. He’s projected to earn an AAV salary of $1,080,000 for two years. That leaves the Lightning with $6,250,000 remaining.
Ben Thomas and Luke Schenn
Ben Thomas was given a small role and looked good in it, and with how cheap he will come in his new contract, he’ll be a welcome depth piece. Schenn has been around for two years now and seemingly is well-liked by the coaching staff. Thomas is projected $750,000 for a year, while Schenn is projected $830,300 for one year. Those deals leave the Lightning with $4,670,034 remaining.
Alex Barre-Boulet, Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk
Barre-Boulet, like Colton, was given an NHL role and shined on occasion. Playing 15 games, he scored three goals. They’ll want the undrafted youngster back, as he’s projected $777,600 for one year. Meanwhile, Raddysh and Katchouk have been key contributors to the Syracuse Crunch. With the Lightning cap situation and key departures, it’ll be their time to earn a full-time NHL role. Neither were projected contracts due to their lack of NHL experience. That said, they were both given $750,000 contracts for one year, similar to Ben Thomas. With all that, the Lightning are left with $2,392,434 in cap space.
Potential Free Agent Additions
The Lightning most definitely won’t sign anyone of importance this offseason, unless a Shattenkirk or Maroon-Esque situation presents itself like in the 2019-20 offseason. That said, they will be searching for a new backup goalie, and with over $2,000,000 in space, they’ll have options. However, they’ll likely remain cheap as Vasilevskiy will play a large majority of games. Devan Dubnyk is a potential free agent. He’s an experienced veteran that could manage not playing many games while also acting as a mentor for the still-young Vasilevskiy off the ice.
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