After the hockey season, attention shifts to a hectic summer. The Lightning’s first-round playoff elimination gave the front office more time to analyze players and crunch stats than in the last three Stanley Cup final seasons.
Julien BriseBois, Lightning general manager, is busy. Like Ondrej Palat last season, can he be able to keep power forward Alex Killorn?
Four of their final-game starters—Killorn, Perry, Bellemare, and Cole—are unrestricted free agents. Restricted free agency promotes forwards Ross Colton and Tanner Jeannot.
BriseBois will have to do his best cap magic with a cap amount that hasn’t been determined but is projected to grow by $1 million from $82.5 million.
BriseBois acknowledged last month that this offseason was the worst. We have the fewest roster positions and cap room ever.
The Lightning’s next couple weeks.
The tiny cap rise is complex, but players must finish escrow payments to owners due to pandemic income losses. They’re close to being paid, and players, agents, and GMs on clubs opposing the cap hope the cap will rise by $1 to $2 million, but it’s improbable. Killorn would have benefited more from free agency next summer or the following.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has claimed that league earnings are up, and the cap is set to rise $10 to $12 million over the next three years, but it may not be substantial until next year. Team valuations are rising—the Lightning were appraised at $1.4 billion for a minority ownership sale—but the cap would have climbed just $2 million over the last five seasons if $83.5 million is the maximum.
Now more than ever, every million matters, especially for a team like the Lightning, which has 17 players under one-way contracts and only about $7.325 million of cap space left, including the final year of retired defenseman Brent Seabrook’s contract that allows them $6.875 million of additional cap space through long-term injured reserve.
Maintaining a championship-caliber team requires a top-heavy Lightning salary.
According to CapFriendly, six players—Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Stamkos, Mikhail Sergachev, and Victor Hedman—will account for 64% of the team’s cap bill if the salary cap is $83.5 million.
Most of those guys have been hogging salary for years. Point’s $9.5 million average annual value deal began last season, while Sergachev’s eight-year agreement, making him the team’s highest-paid defenseman at $10.2 million, begins this season. 10.2% of the team’s cap is his hit.
After their eight-year extensions kick in, two-way center Anthony Cirelli and top right-shot defenseman Erik Cernak will receive raises of $1.45 million and $2.25 million, respectively.
The Lightning saved $6.75 million by moving left-shot defenseman Ryan McDonagh last summer. The three will earn $7.4 million in increases.
No apologies for a top-heavy salary. Winning requires exceptional players. All six players are homegrown and earn top bucks. It’s uncommon to have a core group like BriseBois’s, thus they win immediately.
Forced to trade?
BriseBois didn’t expect to deal a player under contract like McDonagh last year. They may have to relocate a huge piece.
Colton, an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent, might be another homegrown cap victim. After finishing a two-year, $1.125-million average yearly value, he is owed a hefty rise after a 16-goal, 32-point season.
Trade-deadline purchase Jeannot is another Lightning restricted free agent. Evolving Hockey projects a two-year, $2.105 average yearly value for arbitration-eligible him. The Lightning will offer him a qualifying offer because to the bounty they paid for him.
If they want to keep Killorn, the Lightning might trade Colton before the draft (June 28-29) for a choice. Losing two of their top three left wingers would hurt the team’s offensive depth. Jeannot would give the Lightning nine forwards on one-way contracts.
Evolving Hockey reports that Colton may be a luxury under the Lightning’s cap with a four-year, $3.351 million average yearly value deal. We won’t know until the qualifying offer deadline July 6, five days after free agency starts. The Lightning will know their roster better then.