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Now the hard part for Lightning — keeping the team together
Tampa Bay about to run into a cap crunch
What is the market value on a 23-yearold centre who finished fourth in Selke Trophy voting this year? How about a pair of top- four defencemen — one who is 22 and the other 23 — who can quarterback the power play or kill penalties and blocks shots?
Did we mention all three just hoisted the Stanley Cup?
After years of heartbreak and disappointment, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally got over the hump and won a championship. But now comes the hard part: trying to keep the roster together so that they can do it again next year.
The good news is that the core of the team — which includes forwards Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, Conn Smythe- winning defenceman Victor Hedman, and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy — is under financial control for at least four more seasons. The bad news is that even with Patrick Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk headed out the door as an unrestricted free agents, the team has committed US$76 million of the $ 81.5- million salary cap to just 15 players.
That does not include two- way centre Anthony Cirelli or defencemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak, who all will be looking for significant raises in the coming months as pending restricted free agents.
And while the lack of a state tax means that Tampa Bay can pay its players far less than what Toronto had to spend on Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, you don’t have to be a capologist to realize that $ 5 million is not going to be enough to get Cirelli, Sergachev and Cernak all signed.
Difficult decisions are coming to the rest of Tampa Bay’s roster. Those decisions could be even more difficult if another team were to sign any of those pending RFAS to offer sheets — a realistic possibility considering how fragile the Lightning’s financial situation is right now.
“I could see offer sheets coming on Cirelli, Sergachev and Cernak,” said an NHL agent with close ties to the situation. “If I were a GM, I’d be waiting in the wings trying to get Anthony Cirelli on a $ 7- million offer sheet. Every team is talking about him. He’s a building- block type of player.”
This is not news to the Lightning. While offer sheets are a rarity in the NHL, they still happen enough to keep GM Julien Brisebois up at night. A year ago, Montreal signed Carolina’s Sebastian Aho to a five- year, $ 42.57- million offer sheet that the Hurricanes ended up matching.
If Montreal were to make a similar $8 million per year offer to Cirelli, would Tampa Bay have the resources to match it?
Maybe, but it would require some significant subtractions to the roster in order to make it happen. Even if there is no offer sheet, chances are that Alex Killorn ($ 4.45 million) and another top-six forward, whether it’s Tyler Johnson ($ 5 million), Yanni Gourde ($5.16 million) or Ondrej Palat ($ 5.3 million), probably have played their last games in Tampa Bay.
“I’m sure Julien’s been preparing behind the scenes and talking to teams and strategizing with people that he trusts in the organization,” the agent said. “Now they’ve got to do what Chicago did when they won the Cup and had to make some hard decisions.”
It was in 2010 when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup and then bid goodbye to nine of their players. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel and Ben Eager were sent to the Atlanta Thrashers in a cap- saving trade, Kris Versteeg was traded to Toronto, Colin Fraser was traded to Edmonton, and Antti Niemi, John Madden and Adam Burish signed elsewhere as free agents.
The moves did not exactly hurt the Blackhawks, who won again in 2013 and 2015.
Perhaps the Lightning can do the same. But first, they have to identify who stays and who goes — and what it is going to cost.
Cirelli, who already looks like a left- shot version of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, is probably worth $ 8 million on the open market.
But on a team where no one makes more than $ 9.5 million, Tampa Bay can’t pay him more than they are spending on Point ($ 6.75 million). With how tight they are against the cap, they probably don’t even want him making more than Gourde.
Sergachev, who scored a career- best 10 goals this season and was Tampa Bay’s second- highest scoring defenceman with 34 points, should be worth the $ 6.75 million that Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov is making. And Cernak, who led the team with 52 blocked shots in the playoffs, could get the $ 4.25 million that Columbus’ shot-blocking specialist David Savard is earning.
Then again, the Lightning already is paying Hedman and Ryan Mcdonagh $14.625 million and needs to sign two more defencemen. Even if the team buys out the remaining year of Brayden Coburn’s $ 1.7- million contract, something — or rather, someone — is going to have to give.
The problem is that the most obvious options could be the most difficult to move.
Killorn has a limited no- movement clause, while Johnson, Gourde and Palat all have full no- movement clauses. The Lightning can ask them to waive that clause, but why would they?
Why leave a team that probably will probably enter next season as the favourites to win again? Why leave Tampa Bay, where it’s always sunny and there’s no state tax?
If that’s the case, then maybe the Lightning will have no choice but to move Cirelli, Sergachev or Cernak. After all, their cap situation will not get better. Next year, Point, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow all will need new deals.
No wonder there are no more dynasty teams in the NHL.