The Tampa Bay Lightning extended qualifying offers to nine organizational players today. The deadline for qualifying restricted free agents was today at 5:00. Those players qualified by the Bolts are:
F Michael Bournival
D Jake Dotchin
G Kristers Gudlevskis
F Tyler Johnson
D Slater Koekkoek
F Tye McGinn
F Ondrej Palat
F Matthew Peca
F Tanner Richard
At the end of the day, what this means is that the Lightning retains the rights to these players. It doesn’t mean that they’ll be signed for the upcoming season. Should players (like Kristers Gudlevskis and Tanner Richard) head for Europe, it means that the Lightning can bring them back as an asset if the opportunity presents itself. Either way, none of these players are officially signed yet.
Taking a look at these players might reveal more questions than answers:
Bournival played 19 games with the Lightning this past season after being acquired last summer from the Montreal organization. He had 2 goals and 1 assist. He played in 38 regular season games with the Syracuse Crunch and was 14th on the team in points with 9 goals and 10 assists. He played in all 22 of the Crunch’s post-season games and netted 8 goals and 7 assists. He briefly had some injury trouble throughout the season, but overall had a great comeback from a concussion he suffered prior to signing with the Lightning.
Bournival was a large part of the veteran core in Syracuse when he was with the Crunch, and it would be nice to see him continue within the Lightning organization. The question is where the Lightning may see him slotting in. One would assume he’d start the season with Syracuse as depth insurance.
Dotchin’s success story from this past season has been well documented. He started the year with Syracuse, playing in 33 games with the Crunch before being recalled to the Lightning in January. Originally he was looked at as just a temporary fill-in, but his grit and tenacity earned him a spot for the rest of the season. Dotchin played in 35 games for the Bolts, working his way up to the top pairing beside Victor Hedman. Upon returning to Syracuse for the Calder Cup playoffs, Dotchin played in 19 of the Crunch’s 22 post-season games.
It’s assumed that Dotchin will be slated in for the Lightning next season. It isn’t outrageous to imagine that he will start on that top pairing with Hedman right where he left, though as we here at Raw Charge recently stated, there are a lot of moving parts right now. It’s difficult to project with certainty where things will be this fall, but chances are that Dotchin will be in that mix in Tampa somewhere, though his ceiling may still be in question.
Gudlevskis might be one of the organization’s biggest question marks going into this summer. Rumors have been swirling for months that the goalie is destined to go overseas, as his career trajectory with the Lightning certainly seems to be at its end. He started the season paired with Adam Wilcox in Syracuse, but wasn’t stable enough on the ice for the Lightning to feel fully confident with him leading the way. Wilcox was traded at the deadline for Mike McKenna, and although the two spent the last weeks of the regular season trading ice time, McKenna took over the net for the entirety of the Crunch’s playoff run.
Although Gudlevskis had very little stability in his ice time for the second season in a row - he spent a portion of this season and last season bouncing between Tampa and Syracuse to allow for goalie musical chairs - the expectation was that he’d find his feet regardless and lead the Crunch in net. That didn’t happen. Gudlevskis ended the season with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage in 37 games with the Crunch. With rookie Connor Ingram slated for Syracuse this upcoming season, the assumption is currently that the Lightning will want a more stable veteran to share duties with him.
Slater Koekkoek and Matthew Peca are two players on this list who should find their place with the Lightning next season. Koekkoek was a rock for the Crunch this past season, playing in 48 regular season games and netting 13 points. He was a workhorse on the Crunch’s penalty kill during the regular season and during the playoffs. He had 7 points throughout the course of the Crunch’s 22 playoff games.
Peca’s skill set is ready for the NHL, and he shined during the Calder Cup playoffs, amassing 4 goals and 10 assists. Peca also impressed during his 10 games with the Lightning this past season, where he went 1-1. His speed sometimes gets hampered in the AHL, and it’s time for the quick forward to make the leap to the NHL.
McGinn will be entering his third season with the Lightning organization, and Crunch fans are practically salivating for a full healthy season from the forward after watching him work his tail off during the playoffs. Fans were optimistic about what McGinn was going to do for the Crunch this past season after his 44-point 2015-16, but fate dealt the fan base and the team a heavy blow when McGinn was sidelined by a shoulder injury after just two games.
McGinn returned to the Crunch’s roster in March, and finished his shortened season with 19 points in 21 total games. During the playoffs, McGinn totaled 5 goals and 11 assists in the Crunch’s 22 post-season games. He was a huge part of the team’s calm demeanor and lack of panic when things appeared to be going sideways, and was often credited by those he played with for his hard work. McGinn is probably slated for a large part in Syracuse’s leadership group, which will be desperately needed with such a young projected roster.
Much has been said here already about Johnson and Palat. Geo’s projections have them at either $5.5 million per season or $6 million per season. The biggest challenge with assessing Johnson’s value to the organization is probably his health, which is something that could be argued for Palat, too. Two-thirds of the famed Triplets Line, both players are firmly embedded in the hearts of the organization.
Richard was projected to have a big season, but overall things seemed to get off track for the Swiss forward in 2016-17. He played in 47 games for Syracuse over the course of the regular season, going 14-20. Although he did earn his first NHL call up in December, playing in three games with the Lightning, his season with the Crunch was marked by an apparent conflict with new head coach’s Ben Groulx's policies and expectations. He was benched for a few games in the middle of the season, and he was buried in the organization’s depth when the Crunch received reinforcements from the Lightning for the playoffs.
Not long after the Crunch’s playoffs started, Richard announced that he was returning home. Though the Lightning have retained his rights by qualifying him, he probably will not suit up for the organization this upcoming season.
Three players weren’t qualified by the Bolts: Dylan Blujus, Jonathan Racine, and Henri Ikonen. Ikonen had already signed with Jokerit in Finland, so it wasn’t a surprise that he wasn’t qualified. Racine was traded to the organization for Nikita Nesterov and a sixth-round pick this past January for some defensive depth for Syracuse. He was probably never meant to stay within the organization.
Maybe the biggest surprise in this group was Blujus. A Buffalo native, Blujus was sidelined for the majority of the past season with a wrist injury that ended up needing surgery in December. Once touted for his hockey mind and his size, Blujus seemed to get lost somehow within the Crunch’s depth while recovering from that surgery. He returned to the roster in March, played 13 games to finish out the regular season, got into one playoff game, and then wasn’t heard from again.
Blujus would have required waivers next season to move between Syracuse and Tampa. It’s possible that played a part in the decision to not qualify him. Regardless, He clearly didn’t fit into the Lightning’s future plans at either level.