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Updating the Tampa Bay Lightning cap situation without Jonathan Drouin

With Drouin out of the picture, the Lightning’s cap situation looks a lot better.

2016 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It was a simple reality that the Tampa Bay Lightning were going to have to move someone that was owed a big contract this summer. The general consensus was that it would be either Tyler Johnson or Jonathan Drouin. Johnson because he was deemed replaceable by Braydon Point. Drouin because it was believed he’d ask for too much money.

And we were right, Drouin asked for and got $5.5M/year for six years from the Montreal Canadiens, a price tag that Yzerman did not want to pay for Drouin’s production.

My best guess at what Steve Yzerman wanted to sign Drouin for was around $4 to $4.5 million per year on a three-year contract. There was no way he could give him more than Nikita Kucherov’s three-year $4.76 million contract from last summer. Kucherov took less to help the team. It would have been a poke in the eye to turn around the next offseason and give Drouin a long term contract.

By getting rid of the problem, and addressing a team need in picking up Mikhail Sergachev, Yzerman has opened up his ability to put together a team that can be a Stanley Cup contender in 2017-18.

All salary information comes from the great folks at CapFriendly.com. If you are at all interested in salary cap fun (which I assume you are since you’re reading this article), they are a great resource with a ton of handy tools. The salary cap for 2017-18 has not been set yet, but should be soon. The estimates I’ve seen have been from $73 million to $75 million and I have set my cap for the middle of that at $74 million.

Forwards

The already locked in contracts the should make the roster are Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov, J.T. Brown, Cedric Paquette, and Brayden Point. In addition, there are a number of number of younger prospects still on entry level contracts that have their contracts in place.

I believe that Erik Condra could be headed back to Syracuse next season despite his contract. The Syracuse Crunch are going to be a very young group next season and could greatly benefit from him continuing as the Captain. I know his desire is to be back in the NHL, but he could really benefit the organization in that role. By sending him to the AHL, he counts for $300,000 against the salary cap.

The eight forwards already set for the roster have a combined salary cap charge of $28,203,334. For a full roster, the team will need five more forwards. That includes signing restricted free agents Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.

Palat and Johnson take a little bit of guesswork to figure out where they might land. They also could be in for matching contracts again. Both are coming off of three-year bridge deals that had a $3.333 million cap hit. Both players have cooled off over the past two seasons and have not reached the highs they had in their rookie and Triplet seasons. For both, injuries have at least partly been to blame.

However, with multiple 50 point seasons to their names, the floor for their contracts is $5 million. They could even push closer to $6 million by pointing to Johnson’s 72 point season and Palat’s 63 point season. For now, I will pencil them in at $5.5 million each to see where we stand. I’d expect both are also looking at five-year deals.

That leaves us with three slots. I’ve filled in those three slots with a couple prospects that made their NHL debuts last season and a free agent signing that proved his worth.

Adam Erne is on the last year of his entry level contract with a cap hit of $874,167. I’ve also added Matthew Peca on a two-way contract for the league minimum of $650,000. And the third player is Gabriel Dumont on a contract paying him $750,000. That might be a small stretch for Dumont as he could likely be re-signed on a two-way contract for $650,000. It would be a nice offering to him though to convince him to stay in Tampa as he is an unrestricted free agent.

That gives the team 13 forwards with a total combined cap hit of $41,477,501. That leaves us with $32,522,499 for the defense and goaltenders.

With these 13 forwards, here is how I would set the lines.

Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point
Alex Killorn - Matthew Peca - Adam Erne
Gabriel Dumont - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
J.T. Brown

Defensemen

This is the part where things get tricky. Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison, and Braydon Coburn are the currently signed defensemen. Jake Dotchin, Slater Koekkoek, and Andrej Sustr are restricted free agents. Plus there is newly acquired Mikhail Sergachev who may or may not be with the Lightning.

For the moment, let’s take the best case scenario that Sergachev is everything as advertised and is NHL ready.

One bit that I haven’t covered yet is the expansion draft. You’ll notice that no one from the forwards group had disappeared. With Drouin being gone, now all of the most valuable forwards are either ineligible or will be protected. That leaves Vegas to take someone from the defensive group.

While I did just say I wanted to take the best case scenario on Sergachev, I’m going to take a worst case, in my mind at least, scenario on the expansion draft. And that scenario is that Yzerman agrees to expose Slater Koekkoek on condition that Vegas takes Jason Garrison as well. The Lightning lose a potential top 4 left handed defenseman that has had his development stalled a bit. But it also moves out of a $4.6 million cap hit for Garrison. Sergachev could also be viewed as a replacement for Koekkoek in the organization.

That gives us a base of Hedman, Stralman, Coburn, and Sergachev to start the defense with a combined cap hit of $16,969,166.

While Dotchin played well in a quarter of an NHL season, he hasn’t done enough to get much of a raise. Actually, he’ll likely be taking a slight pay hit as he’s coming off of an Entry Level Contract that was paying him more than the league minimum. He’s likely to be re-signed to a two-way contract for the league minimum of $650,000.

Andrej Sustr is a tough case. He has shown at times that he can be a good defenseman and at other times that he can be a lot of trouble. After Dotchin joined the line up this year, his TOI dropped by almost two minutes. At this point, he should be firmly viewed as a third pair defenseman. If he can be pushed to the press box, all the better for the Lightning as it will mean their top six is pretty strong. With that said, he’s still experienced and I have him at $1.75 million on a two-year contract. It’s not too far off from defensemen that play around his TOI and provide 15 or so points a year.

That leaves us with six defensemen and we need one more body. We actually still have a surprising amount of cap space with just over $11 million remaining for the last defenseman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and a back-up goaltender. That gives us some money to play with.

We recently discussed some free agent defensemen in a round table among our staff. I want to turn to a defenseman we discussed there and sign him in the free agent market. Cody Franson. He’s a right handed defenseman that has had a pretty good couple of years with the Buffalo Sabres. He’s past his prime, but still a useful defenseman. He could be looking for an opportunity where he can win a Stanley Cup. The Lightning could be that place for him.

Franson is coming off of a two-year contract with the Sabres that had a salary cap hit of $3.325 million. The Lightning could give him a raise in the $3.5 to $4 million range on a three-year contract and attract him to the Sunshine state. Franson is not flashy offensively, though he does have a couple of 30 point seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs in his past. He is defensively sound though and has good advanced stats to back that up. To be pessimistic, I’ve added him at $4 million to the roster. Even if Franson doesn’t end up being the answer here, there are a few other unrestricted free agent targets that would make sense and could be had for a similar cap hit.

With Franson added to the mix, and Koekkoek and Garrison gone to Vegas, this is my projection for the defensive pairings.

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Cody Franson
Andrej Sustr

After the defensemen are added, we are now down to just about $7 million in cap space.

Goaltending

With only needing two players, this section is going to be real easy. Andrei Vasilevskiy is already signed for the next three seasons with a cap hit of $3.5 million. He is clearly the starter in net for the Lightning. That leaves us with a need for a back-up.

Yzerman won’t need to look very far for a back-up. Peter Budaj was acquired in the Ben Bishop trade and was serviceable as a back-up. As a veteran, he understands his role and can be a supporter for Vasilevskiy. It’ll also be a nice payday for him as he gets towards the end of his career. I’m estimating that he could be signed for around $1.25 million.

Others

In this scenario, the Lightning have buried Erik Condra in the AHL and he counts for $300,000 against the salary cap. The team also still has a cap hit of $1,833,333 for the buy-out of Matthew Carle.

This leaves the team with $2,345,000 in cap space to start the year.

Conclusion

A lot of this is speculation. There are a lot of variables and moving parts. Even just a few days ago, a projection of the salary cap would have become widely inaccurate unless the person assumed that Drouin was going to be traded before the expansion draft. This just represents one possibility. A number of the players can be used as placeholders for other players that could make the team.

Perhaps it’s Yanni Gourde that is re-signed and takes Peca’s place on the third line. Perhaps Dumont signs elsewhere and Bournival is brought in instead to play on the fourth line or be the 13th forward instead of J.T. Brown. Maybe Condra is the 13th forward.

There’s some many variables. But by putting the pieces together as best we can, it gives us an idea of where the team stands and what the team can do and what it must do to reform this roster into a Stanley Cup contender.