National Post (Latest Edition)

Now the hard part for Light­ning — keep­ing the team to­gether

Tampa Bay about to run into a cap crunch

- Michael Traikos Postmedia News mtraikos@ postmedia. com Twit­ter. com/ Michael_ Traikos Sports · NHL Hockey · Ice Hockey · Tampa Bay Lightning · Tampa · Steven Stamkos · Nikita Kucherov · Victor Hedman · Andrei Vasilevski · Toronto · Auston Matthews · National Hockey League · Montreal · Atlanta · Edmonton · John Madden · Boston Bruins · Boston · Patrice Bergeron · Conn Smythe · Patrick Maroon · Kevin Shattenkirk · Anthony Cirelli · Erik Černák · Mitchell Marner · Alexander Killorn · Ondřej Palát · Chicago Blackhawks · Dustin Byfuglien · Brent Sopel · Atlanta Thrashers · Kris Versteeg · Colin Fraser · Adam Burish · Ivan Provorov

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.

 ??  ??
 ?? Pery Nel­son / USA TO­DAY Sports ?? Tampa Bay Light­ning cen­tre An­thony Cirelli hoists the Stan­ley Cup on Mon­day in Ed­mon­ton. He could well see
an of­fer sheet com­ing to him.
Pery Nel­son / USA TO­DAY Sports Tampa Bay Light­ning cen­tre An­thony Cirelli hoists the Stan­ley Cup on Mon­day in Ed­mon­ton. He could well see an of­fer sheet com­ing to him.

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