Last season the Tampa Bay Lightning came within two games of winning the Stanley Cup. They will be among the Eastern Conference favorites again this year but it could be the last chance for this group of players before the salary cap beats them.
Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has moves has must make this year before the season starts to get under the cap. According to spotrac.com the Tampa Bay Lightning are nearly $1 million over the cap with their current contracts. Taking care of that this year, and leaving room to improve the team at the trade deadline, doesn’t sound too hard.
It’s next year the trouble starts. Steven Stamkos is on the last year of his contract. He’s one of the games best goal scorers and is in line for a raise over his $7.5 million salary. While talks aren’t happening yet, players like Stamkos don’t just walk away in free agency. This deal is getting done or Yzerman will make sure the Tampa Bay Lightning get players and picks in a trade. Yzerman is already on record that signing Stamkos is his top priority so don’t expect a trade.
At least not of Stamkos. The Tampa Bay Lightning have two more pending unrestricted free agents after the season in Braydon Coburn and Mattias Ohlund. Combined their salary is over $8 million. Coburn has a modified no-trade clause while Ohlund has a no-movement clause. Both having some control over where they play limits Yzerman some, but one of them will get pushed off the roster by Nikita Nesterov.
Nesterov is due his own deal after this season but the Tampa Bay Lightning have some control over that. Nesterov joins six roster players as restricted free agents. Big names like Cedric Paquette, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov are all RFA’s after this season. That’s a big part of the team coming up for raises at the same time.
Push out one more year and more core players come up. Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin both enter restricted free agency while the Tampa Bay Lightning crease could look very different. Ben Bishop is a free agent in 2017 while heir apparent Andrei Vasileveskiy is an RFA.
Looking at all the important players coming up for contracts in the next two years, I believe this is an important year for Bishop. Coming off a torn groin and making nearly $6 million is not a good combination for a goaltender on a team with cap trouble. While Bishop is still the number one goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vasilevskiy will get extra starts this year.
After responding well in the Stanley Cup Final last season Vasilevskiy can make Yzerman’s job easier. If he can take the starting job away from Bishop the Tampa Bay Lightning have more cash to keep the young core together for longer. Bishop could be the cap casualty if Vasilevskiy proves capable of leading the crease. It’s an interesting situation to watch this season.
Working for the Tampa Bay Lightning after this season is the reduced buyout cap hit of Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone. Malone is finished counting against the cap while Lecavalier’s figure is cut in half. It’s around $2.4 million extra next season, money the Tampa Bay Lightning need very much.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are among the best teams in the NHL. If Yzerman can manage the salary cap over the next two years well, the Tampa Bay Lightning can stay in the Stanley Cup picture for years. He can’t keep everyone, making the Tampa Bay Lightning a fun team to watch both on and off the ice.
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