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Would Russian winger Danis Zaripov fit with the Tampa Bay Lightning?

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Reports are out that Zaripov will be eligible to play in the NHL and is seeking a contract.

IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship - Finland v Russia Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Stephen Whyno with AP News reported today that Russian winger Danis Zaripov will be eligible to play in the NHL and is seeking a contract. While Zaripov has not been connected directly with the Tampa Bay Lightning, yet, Tampa could be considered a possible landing spot for the Russian star.

Previously, Zaripov was suspended by the KHL and IIHF and had his contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk terminated. He was suspended for testing positive for using the drug pseudoephedrine. However, psuedoephedrine is not on the NHL/NHLPA list of banned substances. After reviewing his case, the NHL determined that he would be eligible to play in the NHL since he would not have been suspended under the NHL’s rules.

According to Whyno, Zaripov’s agent is Dan Milstein. Milstein is the new agent for current Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov. Though Milstein hasn’t negotiated with Yzerman on behalf of either player yet, it’s likely he has already been in touch with Yzerman since gaining Kucherov and Namestnikov as clients. Milstein was quoted in Whyno’s article as saying Zaripov is looking for a place where he can win and a place where he can sign a one-year contract to prove himself.

Zaripov is a left-hander, but has played on both the left and right wings during his career. He’s also a winner and will bring a lot of experience. Combining his years in the Russian Superleague, and its successor, the KHL, over 18 seasons, Zaripov has 912 games played to go with 320 goals and 707 points. Additionally he has 73 goals and 151 points in 189 playoff games.

Over his career, Zaripov has won a Russian Superleague Championship, four KHL Championships, one World Championship bronze, one World Championship silver, and three World Championship golds. He’s also been a six-time KHL All Star and made first All-Star team twice to go with an MVP award.

While the Lightning’s roster seems to be pretty well set, there are some questions about where certain players would slot into the lineup. If Vladislav Namestnikov is the first-line left winger, and Brayden Point is the third-line center, that leaves a fairly big hole on the right wing side behind Kucherov. The options in that case to fill in that slot come down to Ryan Callahan coming back from injury and an unproven Yanni Gourde.

Lining up down the middle with Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, and Brayden Point gives the Lightning a very strong middle. Adding Zaripov into the mix on the right side would strengthen a group of Kucherov, Gourde, and Callahan. Here’s a possible line-up inserting Zaripov in:

Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Danis Zaripov
Alex Killorn - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
J.T. Brown

In this lineup, the team has a strong offensive group on the first line. The second line also can provide plenty of offense and responsible play. The third line should offer some good complementary scoring with three players that can move up to the top two lines in the event of injuries. The “fourth” line would provide one of the best match-up lines in the league, capable of taking on almost any opposition.

The other question to ask is cost, and if the Lightning can afford it. The good thing is that he’s a free agent so the Lightning don’t have to give up any assets to acquire him. The only cost would be a one-year contract. Yzerman has given himself some space to work with this season. While using that space would limit what he could do at the deadline, adding Zaripov could be a better option to do now rather than waiting for reinforcements later.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Lightning have $3.25 million in cap space. That can change a little bit though. Erik Condra is currently included on the roster. He is recovering from back surgery and may not be available to start the season, which would mean the team would have to carry is salary cap hit early in the season. Once he’s healthy, he could be sent down to the AHL and give the team roughly $1 million in additional space.

The CapFriendly roster also does not include Mikhail Sergachev. He has an $894,166 cap hit that would bring the available space down to $2,355,834 in cap space. The Lightning have a potential bonus liability of a little over $2 million. If the bonuses paid out at the end of the year forced the Lightning over the salary cap, any overage would be carried over to the next season. Almost half of the possible bonus money comes from performance bonuses for Chris Kunitz. The rest comes from Point and Sergachev.

With Zaripov wishing to prove himself, he could potentially sign for a contract in the $1 to $2 million range. It’s also possible that he would accept the low end of that range with the rest being made up for with performance bonuses. That would work out nicely for the Lightning as it creates some in-season cushion with the lower cap hit. It also gives them protection in case Zaripov, who is 36 years old, flames out and can’t handle the NHL game.

It looks like there is a fit here in Tampa for Zaripov. The Lightning have the cap space to sign him to a small one-year prove it deal as well as a line-up spot he could help fill. He would also have three Russians in Kucherov, Namestnikov, and Andrei Vasilevskiy on the team to help him with the transition to North America. And the Lightning would offer a chance to win right away in the NHL.

Now the question is if Steve Yzerman and Zaripov agree with me and can come to an arrangement about a contract.

Denis Zaripov career statistics via Hockeydb.com

Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM plus/minus Playoff GP Playoff G Playoff A Playoff Pts Playoff PIM
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM plus/minus Playoff GP Playoff G Playoff A Playoff Pts Playoff PIM
1998-99 Swift Current Broncos WHL 62 23 8 31 33 9 6 0 1 1 6
1999-00 Chelyabinsk Mechel Russia 37 5 7 12 16
2000-01 Chelyabinsk Mechel Russia 42 9 7 16 20
2001-02 Kazan Ak-Bars Russia 41 3 6 9 14
2002-03 Kazan Ak-Bars Russia 48 16 10 26 18 17 5 0 0 0 0
2003-04 Kazan Ak-Bars Russia 52 8 5 13 20 8 1 1 2 4
2004-05 Kazan Ak-Bars Russia 56 13 12 25 16 4 0 0 0 0
2005-06 Kazan Ak-Bars Russia 49 14 25 39 36 13 3 4 7 2
2006-07 Kazan Ak-Bars Russia 53 32 30 62 32 14 8 5 13 4
2007-08 Kazan Ak-Bars Russia 57 21 35 56 38 10 3 6 9 20
2008-09 Kazan Ak-Bars KHL 56 34 31 65 26 26 21 6 10 16 8
2009-10 Kazan Ak-Bars KHL 52 16 27 43 58 3 1 0 1 1 2
2010-11 Kazan Ak-Bars KHL 40 18 19 37 18 18 9 4 3 7 2
2011-12 Kazan Ak-Bars KHL 53 25 20 45 48 16
2012-13 Kazan Ak-Bars KHL 46 19 17 36 14 17 12 4 2 6 8
2013-14 Magnitogorsk Metallurg KHL 53 25 39 64 32 42 21 11 15 26 34
2014-15 Magnitogorsk Metallurg KHL 60 24 40 64 40 13 10 5 6 11 2
2015-16 Magnitogorsk Metallurg KHL 60 22 32 54 26 9 23 6 9 15 14
2016-17 Magnitogorsk Metallurg KHL 56 16 29 45 16 5 18 15 7 22 18
Hockeydb.com