With Steven Stamkos out until at least mid-March and perhaps longer, the Tampa Bay Lightning have placed him on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). According to CapFriendly.com, the Lightning made a paper transaction on Sunday to add Syracuse Crunch defenseman Ben Thomas to the roster prior to placing Stamkos on LTIR.
(1/2) #Lightning filed a 1 day paper transaction on Sun recalling Ben Thomas from Syracuse, bringing Tampa to within $40K of the cap ceiling— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) November 22, 2016
(2/2) #Lightning then placed Steven Stamkos on Long Term IR, giving Tampa almost max value on his cap hit with $8,460,613 in cap relief. pic.twitter.com/FARnDepLCC— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) November 22, 2016
The transaction happened prior to the recall of Erik Condra on Monday. To get the most out of LTIR cap relief, a team wants to get as close to the salary cap as they can. Any cap space they have is subtracted from the cap relief the team gains from placing the player on LTIR. A paper transaction refers to a recall and demotion that happens on paper only. Thomas never physically left Syracuse and was “demoted” almost immediately after being “recalled.”
This means the Lightning can add up to an $8.4 million cap hit beyond the current salary cap to the roster. However, this does not signal that the Lightning will make a big move to add salary either now or at the trade deadline. If Stamkos, who had surgery to repair a tear in the lateral meniscus of his right knee, were to return to the Lightning prior to the end of the regular season, the team would then have to shed their extra salary to get under the salary cap. Since that would come after the Feb. 28 trade deadline, it would be very hard to accomplish.
Condra has been reassigned to Syracuse today.
What this does for the team, however, is gives them a lot more flexibility in dealing with recalls for injury. After gaining the salary cap relief, the Lightning were able to recall Condra instead of choosing a lower priced forward from the Syracuse Crunch. The team will still need to be wary of using up their cap space, as this does not protect the team from bonus overages. The concept of LTIR is to allow the team to replace the player with another player or players with a comparable cap hit for the time the player is on LTIR.
If the trade deadline comes around and it looks like Stamkos will not be back until after the regular season, general manager Steve Yzerman would then have the green light to pull the trigger on a deal that would involve adding salary to the roster. Once the regular season is over, the salary cap goes out the window and doesn’t matter any more.
A recent example of this happened two seasons ago when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Patrick Kane was injured just prior to the trade deadline. The Blackhawks placed him on LTIR and then acquired Antoine Vermette. They got Kane back in time for the playoffs. Without LTIR, the Blackhawks would not have been able to add Vermette for their stretch run and into the playoffs without shedding salary elsewhere.
As we get into January and February, we’ll need to watch the trade rumors and reports on Stamkos’ rehab. If he’s looking on schedule or ahead of of it, Yzerman is unlikely to make any major moves. If Stamkos is behind schedule — well, that opens up a lot of possibilities to make an addition, perhaps on the blue line.
Either way, it’s way too early to determine who might be sellers at the deadline. The expansion draft next summer could also have a big impact on how the trade market develops. With that in mind though, there are upcoming UFAs to look at on the blue line.
Buffalo has both Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson. Arizona has right-handed Michael Stone. Calgary has Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland. A few other potential trade partners could also shake loose late in the season as they find themselves out of the wild card and sitting on expiring contracts.