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“Now What?”: Offseason Priorities For the Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning have managed the impossible 2 years in a row: Winning the Stanley Cup. What’s next for the legendary team?

This current version of the Tampa Bay Lightning squad will go down as one of the best teams in NHL history. On top of their back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in 2020 and 2021, they also recorded the most regular season points in League history in the 2018-19 season. They boast several future Hall-of-Famers, as well as countless depth players who make them the dominant team they are. But with contract extensions to sign and raises to be given this summer, can the Lightning continue their success?

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Salary Cap Issues

The Lightning have been widely criticized for the way they got around the Salary Cap in 2021. Star Forward Nikita Kucherov, who carries an Average Annual Value of $9.5 million, spent the entirety of the regular season on Long-Term Injured Reserve. His contract didn’t count towards the salary cap and he returned for the Lightning’s first game of the playoffs, where the salary cap doesn’t apply. The team played the majority of their playoff games about $18 million over the cap ceiling, much to the dismay of their opponents — especially Dougie Hamilton.

Kucherov had an immediate impact upon his return, scoring two goals and an assist in his first game and leading the playoffs in scoring with 32 points. People have been joking that the Lightning will continue holding a big-ticket player off the roster for the regular season and bringing them back for the playoffs. Well, it started out as a joke, until it came out that Forward Alex Killorn, who carries an AAV of $4.45 million, has a broken leg and just had surgery for it. This could result in a similar situation to last year if Killorn goes a while without playing.

We’ll be waiting to see what General Manager Julien BriseBois has up his sleeve this year, and we’ll see if it’s good enough to finally win him a Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award.

Lightning Contract Extensions

A big factor determining the Lightning’s success going forward will be their ability to re-sign their third-liners. That may sound strange, but Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow have turned the Lightning from a great team into a legendary team. They play a huge role in shutting down opponents with their hard-nosed style of hockey, and also contribute big goals from time to time.

Both Coleman and Goodrow are due for contracts this year, and with the way they’ve been playing, they both deserve healthy raises. Coleman’s last contract paid him $1.8 million per year, while Goodrow made a mere $925,000. If BriseBois can manage to keep those guys without offloading too many big pieces, the Lightning could have a chance at the Cup again this coming year.

Brisebois also has to find room to pay Defenseman David Savard, who made $4.25 million per year on his last contract. The Lightning acquired Savard from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2021 Trade Deadline, and he played a major role for the Bolts throughout their Cup run this year- including assisting on the Stanley Cup-winning goal.

Expansion Draft

Everyone’s wondering who the Lightning will have available for the Seattle Kraken to take in the Expansion Draft. They’ll likely protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie, so as to be able to protect as many players as possible. Their three defensemen will almost certainly be Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev. This would leave Erik Cernak exposed, despite his solid contributions to the Lightning’s Cup run this year.

If the Lightning can make a deal with the Kraken, similar to deals that teams made with the Golden Knights in 2017, they may be able to get them to select Tyler Johnson. Although Johnson found his role with the team throughout these playoffs, $5 million is too much to pay a 4th-liner. Johnson would likely be able to play a bigger role with the Kraken, who would love to have a two-time Stanley Cup Champion. However, the Lightning would likely have to give up a significant piece or two to make the deal work.

At any rate, the Lightning have had a successful run that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. But, if possible, they’d love to keep it going. If they can find a way to keep the major pieces, 2021 will not be their last victory as a group. Mr. Briesbois, good luck.

Next: In the Maple Leafs Search for Goalies: Where’s David Rittich?



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