The Tampa Bay Lightning have placed forward J.T. Brown on waivers today. The 30 other teams of the NHL will have until noon tomorrow to place a claim on him. If one of those teams does, he will be transferred to that team and his new team will assume the remainder of his contract. If he goes unclaimed, the Lightning will be able to assign him to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.
Brown has been in and out of the line up for the Bolts, playing a fourth-line role when he is in. In 24 games, he has posted a goal and four points. He had a breakout season in 2015-16, scoring eight goals and 22 points in 78 games played. He was rewarded for that season with a two-year contract paying him an average of $1.25 million per season.
Brown regressed last season only putting up three goals and six points in 64 games. He has not bounced back enough for the team this season offensively and that likely has led to his placement on waivers. Earlier this season, we wrote about how a different kind of deployment would suit his style of play.
I would put the odds of him being claimed at pretty close to 50/50. Fourth-line players are generally pretty abundant and usually for a cheaper cap hit than his $1.25 million. With his status as an unrestricted free agent this summer, there isn’t any long term benefit for a team to claim him. He does have history and experience though with 286 games of NHL experience under his belt.
What next for the team?
This could signal that the team is ready to call up a different forward from the Syracuse Crunch. Waiving Brown leaves the Lightning with just 12 forwards on the roster. Cory Conacher has been a healthy scratch recently for the Lightning and could find his way back in to the line up. Chris Kunitz has also played up on the first line recently without a lot of success there. Those two shifts in the roster had allowed Brown to play on the fourth line with Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.
What the team plans to do with Kunitz and Conacher would inform what the plan is for a call-up. If Kunitz is going to stay on the first line for a while, then Michael Bournival could be the best option. He is a speedy forechecker with 108 games of NHL experience playing mostly on the fourth line. He is a left hander and suited for playing left wing on the fourth line.
If the plan is for Kunitz to move back to the fourth line with Namestnikov returning to the first line, then there are two different scenarios. If Conacher re-enters the line-up to take the third line spot, then Bournival continues to be an option as he would end up as a player that can be a healthy scratch without sacrificing development as he is already 25 years old.
On the other hand, if Conacher continues to be scratched, then the Lightning can look to two younger prospects for the third line in Matthew Peca and Adam Erne. Peca played in ten games for the Bolts last season with a goal and an assist. He currently leads the Crunch in assists with 21 and points with 29. His playmaking ability would be a nice complement to the finishing capabilities of Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde.
Otherwise, the Lightning could go with Erne and his power forward game. After a slow start to the season, he has come on lately and is second on the Crunch for goals with 11 and points with 25. He also played with the Bolts last season and scored three goals in 26 games. He’s not as great of a complement to Killorn and Gourde as Peca, but he would bring a physical presence and some size to the line-up.
Something Peca and Erne have going for them in getting called up is that both of them will become waiver eligible after this season. At some point, the front office needs to see them play in some more NHL games to get a better idea of if they should be traded over the summer or if they have a good chance of making the roster out of training camp next fall.
The last option, is that with Victor Hedman out for the next three to six weeks, that Jon Cooper is going to play seven defensemen. In that case, there wouldn’t be as much of a need to replace Brown on the roster.
An ancillary benefit of waiving Brown is that the Lightning gain a little bit of salary cap room. If he is claimed, the rest of his cap hit won’t count against the Lightning. If he isn’t claimed and is assigned to the AHL, then he will carry a smaller cap hit for the rest of the year if he remains in the AHL as his cap hit is higher than the buriable amount of $1.025 million similar to Erik Condra.
Making up some cap space before the trade deadline increases the number of players that the Lightning could target in the trade market to bolster the roster.