I won't claim to be an expert regarding the NHL salary cap but I do feel that I have a good enough understanding to be able to have developed a program that allows me to track and calculate the salary cap for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. Please note (as I often have problems on Twitter with people not understanding this) that these numbers are ONLY for the 2015-16 season. They have ZERO impact on 2016-17 and beyond. They have ZERO impact on the ability to re-sign Steven Stamkos or any other player. This strictly has to do with the salary cap right now, as of February 28th, 2016 for the Tampa Bay Lightning's ability to add salary at the moment.
I know it's commonly been reported that General Fanager's salary cap numbers are gospel and that the Lightning have basically no cap space left (something like $1.6 million), but I do not fully trust or believe those numbers. In December, when reports were coming out that the Lightning were getting tight on the cap due to the number of players going on injured reserve and being recalled, I realized that General Fanager, the oft-cited salary cap web site, wasn't quite right with its numbers. I noticed that they were simply adding up the cap hits of the players on the roster at that time and using that to calculate the salary cap. That is not an accurate or even close-to-accurate way to determine the salary cap, except on the first day of the season.
So with that, I decided I needed something I could trust to give me accurate numbers to see where the team was as the season progressed. I developed a program that let me input all of the salary cap information on players, to recall and demote players, to make long term injured reserved (LTIR) transactions, and then take all of that input and calculate it on any given day throughout the season. Over the last couple months, I've been reporting these numbers on Twitter to give everyone else an idea of where I thought the Lightning stood on salary.
Too Long; Didn't Read (TL;DR): I believe the Lightning have a lot more cap room ($8.5 million) than has been commonly reported throughout the media ($1.6 million).
If you wish to keep reading, here's my numbers.
The team has had $3,763,238 in LTIR salary relief (Mattias Ohlund and Joel Vermin), making the effective upper limit $75,163,238 ($71.4 cap + LTIR Relief).
The team has retained $1,600,000 salary (Sam Gagner) and had a bonus overage of $332,500 as reported by General Fanager.
The team has current player salary commitments and previous cap applied for players on recall of $71,321,816.
Total cap hit applied (retained + bonus + actual cap salary) is $73,254,316.
This leaves the team with $1,908,922 in cap space.
With 42 days left in the season out of a total of 186 (ends April 9th), this gives the team the equivalent of $8,453,798 in cap space (cap space / 42 * 186).
Ideally, you want to leave a little bit of space for injury recalls. With defenseman Matt Taormina already on the roster at a $600,000 cap hit, you don't need to leave as much as you would otherwise. I would say that the team could probably afford $7.5 million AAV which would give them room for at least 1 more recall right away. However, as the team gets closer to the end of the season, that salary cap available grows bigger as the cap room stays the same and the days left in the season get smaller. That would open up more room for those injury replacements.
Once the regular season is over April 9th, the salary cap doesn't matter as teams are allowed to exceed it by 10%.