Here we sit, almost a week removed from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s elimination from the playoffs in what seemed to be “The Year.” It wasn’t to be, and we are now left to wonder what could have been. What would’ve happened had Gourde angled his stick ever so slightly and tucked the puck into the yawning cage to tie Game 7 at one goal apiece? What would’ve happened had the Lightning actually gotten a non-garbage time power play that they so rightfully earned in Game 7?
The last few days have been hard to swallow as a diehard Bolts fan, but it just goes to show that you have to show up night in and night out in the playoffs and that you have to take advantage of season-defining opportunities should they arise (See: Game 6).
With that said, I have been mulling over some roster tweaks that I would love the front office to make. Granted, I am no Steve Yzerman, but I have done calculated research and interjected my own opinions here and there, so feel free to disagree. No hard feelings. We all want the same thing, don’t we? :)
(Disclaimer: It is far too easy being an armchair GM; thus, take these suggestions of mine with a grain of salt.)
1. Trade Tyler Johnson
I’m sure this won’t sit well with some fans, but for me, this is a move that makes sense from a cap perspective. Although he racked up 40 points in 43 postseason games in 2014-15 and 2015-16, Johnson’s postseason was far from clutch this year. He only potted 3 goals, the last of which came in Game 2 against Boston, ending the playoffs on a 10-game goalless drought.
His AAV is manageable, but the term (6 more seasons) is not. Not in this cap world. Not with the looming extensions of Vasilevskiy, Point, Kucherov, Sergachev, and presumably Gourde. This is quite honestly the last chance Yzerman has to rid himself of this contract, as Johnson’s full NTC kicks in on July 1st, before becoming a modified NTC in the final 3 seasons of the pact.
It is clear now that Johnson is expendable with Point having usurped his former 2C spot. Point has a higher hockey IQ, ceiling, and set of skills quite honestly.
I’d love Yzerman to dangle Johnson as trade bait to acquire a right-handed defenseman. Stralman looks to have lost a step or two, which is normal at his age. Some bonafide top-4 right-handed options are Dougie Hamilton, Tyson Barrie, David Savard, Matt Dumba, Justin Faulk, Jacob Trouba, and Chris Tanev. Can Johnson alone move the needle for some of the aforementioned defensemen? Probably not, but it’s a good starting point. Other lower-tier options could be Ryan Pulock, Troy Stecher, and projects with potential Julius Honka and Jordan Schmaltz.
2. Trade Braydon Coburn
Coburn is entering the final year of his contract, which stipulates that he may be dealt to 16 of the 30 other teams. His cap hit of $3.7 million is manageable for one more year but is honestly an overpayment at this point for his services. At best, he’s a #5 defenseman now.
I will say this, Coburn had a great first two rounds this postseason but didn’t look so good against the Caps. He is a vanilla defenseman and doesn’t offer much in the departments of scoring and physicality.
3. Trade Cedric Paquette or let him walk
Paquette might be the most injury-riddled member of the Bolts and will probably be seeking a raise from his AAV of $812,500. He is at best an agitating 4th line center. His career faceoff percentage of 47.5% is meager and although he did play well with Kunitz and Callahan in the playoffs, I find no reason to pay him upwards of $1 million or so for what could be two years when you can fill that hole in the roster with a player from Syracuse or a veteran. Mitchell Stephens is a potential option in Syracuse. Jay Beagle, Kyle Brodziak, or Antoine Vermette—who have career faceoff percentages of 56.4, 49.7, and 56.8%, respectively—could be veteran options.
4. Trade Slater Koekkoek
We all thought that the Bolts would utilize Koekkoek this season based on the payment Yzerman dished out to ensure that Vegas would take Jason Garrison instead of him or Jake Dotchin in June’s Expansion Draft (2nd and 4th round picks plus Nikita Gusev), right? I sure did. And, yet, here we sit again. Koekkoek has been woefully underutilized, his potential unrealized. This organization has not optimized his development.
The kid needs a fresh start. It’s been an unbelievably rocky start to his career. The Bolts could potentially recoup a 3rd round pick for the defenseman but his future in Tampa looks bleak at best. I wish him the best. He deserves better.
5. Explore Trading Options for Ryan Callahan
Although it would be rather difficult, I implore Yzerman to explore trading Ryan Callahan. These final two years of his contract become a modified NTC, although its details are unknown according to CapFriendly.com. His AAV of $5.8 million is astronomically high for a fourth liner and the guy cannot stay healthy. I commend him for playing his ass off this postseason and hitting everything that moved. But this is a great opportunity for Yzerman to create some more cap space moving forward.
A team close to the cap floor might be enticed to take on Callahan’s contract should Yzerman attach a prospect,a pick, or both to the mix.
6. Extend Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Yanni Gourde
No, I’m not going to predict what each of their contract extension will look like but they need to be dealt with immediately. All three players are eligible to be extended on July 1st and Kucherov and Point should earn 8-year deals. With Gourde, I’d prefer a three-year deal at the maximum.
[Editor’s note: According to Joe Smith of The Athletic, the team and Nikita Kucherov will likely not deal with his extension until next summer]
7. Trade J.T. Miller
What a boon the acquisition of Miller was for the Lightning in the final quarter of the season—10 goals in 19 games. The script was precisely the opposite in the postseason, as Miller potted only 2 goals in 17 games. He now has 3 career postseason goals in 57 playoff games. For comparison, Paquette has 4 goals in 62 career playoff games, and he plays bottom-six minutes.
Needless to say, Miller is not a playoff performer. Will he ever be…who knows? But, like I mentioned with Johnson, Yzerman cannot lock down another complementary forward to a long-term deal. Just cannot in this cap world.
Miller could be dealt at the draft, potentially for a low 1st rounder or high 2nd rounder, as the Bolts won’t be picking until selection #60 on Saturday, June 23, as of the time of this writing.
8. Re-sign Adam Erne
Erne, who still has yet to become a fixture in the Lightning lineup, should be given a one-year, prove-it deal. He is waiver-eligible this coming season, but I could see Yzerman handing him a one-way deal. Regardless, Erne needs to seize this opportunity. He was lauded as a prospect for being a great power forward in the making but he hasn’t put it all together yet. I’m hoping he has a huge offseason to prepare for training camp and establishes himself in Tampa Bay’s top 9.
9. Re-sign Louis Domingue and send Peter Budaj to Syracuse
It was clear to all fans of the Lightning that Budaj struggled this season. After his renaissance season with the Kings, he floundered as the Bolts’ backup this year before Domingue was brought in. Louis quickly seized control of the spot and never let go.
Thus, I’d like Yzerman to re-sign Domingue to a two-year deal, while waiving Budaj and sending him to Syracuse to mentor goaltending prospect Connor Ingram. Budaj is not much of a waiver claim risk at this point in his career due to his age and performance this past season.
10. Be cautiously aggressive in free agency
Tampa Bay needs some new blood in the locker room. Perhaps the staleness of the club, which I thought had vanished this season, reared its ugly head again. The UFA class isn’t amazing, but there are various options that Yzerman could explore including wingers David Perron, James Neal, Thomas Vanek, and Michael Grabner. Perron, Neal, and Vanek all performed great last season, although out of those three players, I’d only feel safe penciling Neal in for a top-six spot.
The key, though, will be limiting the amount of term Yzerman hands out should he make a statement in the free agent market. Vegas, in my opinion, is unlikely to sign both Neal and Perron. So one, or both, could become available.
Given what I’ve written, here’s what a potential lineup could look like for the Lightning come October:
Extras: Stephens, Conacher
In my opinion, this roster can contend. Two solid scoring lines. A 3rd line with players that can chip in on a timely basis. A hard-working 4th line with upstart rookies. A much more sound top-4 on D. And a Vezina finalist in net.
Will these moves guarantee the Stanley returns for another tan in June 2019? No, of course not. But in my best estimation, this is a great blueprint to help this team get over the hump.
Thank You, Raw Charge!
Lastly, I just want to express my sincere gratitude to the staff of Raw Charge and all those individuals with whom I’ve communicated on Twitter. It has been a pleasure sharing my thoughts and writing for such a great group of people and fans. I am off to Puerto Rico in three weeks to begin medical school, and I could not be more excited for the future. I will do my best to correspond with everyone about all things Lightning hockey over the next few years. Until next season…!