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Tampa Bay Lightning re-sign J.T. Miller to a five year contract

The first big RFA domino has fallen for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Washington Capitals v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Seven Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning have announced the signing of restricted free agent forward J.T. Miller to a five-year deal. Miller was acquired at the trade deadline from the New York Rangers along with Ryan McDonagh in exchange for center Vladislav Namestnikov, prospects Brett Howden and Libor Hajek, a 2018 first round pick, and a 2019 conditional second-round pick that turns into a 2019 first-round pick if the Lightning win the Stanley Cup.

The five-year contract has a salary cap of $5.25 million per season. Joe Smith of The Athletic has also reported that a modified No Trade Clause is a part of Miller’s contract and that he would be able to submit an eight-team “No Trade” list. Because he would not be eligible to be an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2019, his modified No Trade Clause would not take effect until the 2019-20 season.

[Editor’s Note: The above paragraph originally stated he would not have been an unrestricted free agent until 2020 and his No Trade Clause would not take effect until the 2020-21 season. This was incorrect and has been edited.]

After arriving in Tampa at the deadline, Miller bounced around the lineup a little bit before settling in as the left winger on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. He scored 10 goals and 18 points in 19 games to give him a season total of 23 goals and 58 points over 82 games played. He added two goals and eight points in 17 playoff games.

This was the third season in a row that Miller scored over 20 goals and second season over 50 points. He also set career highs in goals (23), assists (35), and points (58). Miller has also been a very healthy player throughout his professional career. His only two professional seasons being below 80 games played were in his first two professional seasons when he split time between the NHL and the AHL. The past three seasons, he has played in all 82 games in the NHL.

Turning to his salary cap hit, it is a very reasonable contract. At five years, the contract will take him through until he is 30 years old, giving the Lightning the rest of his prime years and not committing much into when he could be expected to start regressing. At $5.25 million with no signing bonus (according to Pierre LeBrun), he has a reasonable cap hit, especially if he continues to score 20 goals and 50+ points per year. There’s even some potential upside for him to get into the 30 goal and 70 point area if he continues to play with Stamkos and Kucherov on the top line with top power play time.

His contract is similar to contracts that Mika Zibanejad, Nino Niederreiter, Ondrej Palat, and Reilly Smith have signed over the past couple summers. Those four players each signed five year contracts with salary cap hits of $5.35, $5.25, $5.3, and $5 million respectively as restricted free agents in the 24-26 year old range. Miller is not a top tier player, but is certainly a legitimate top six performer with his offensive output.

His signing also makes me feel that it is unlikely that the Lightning will be landing John Tavares in free agency. Signing Tavares now would mean looking elsewhere to find the salary cap room for Tavares. While trading Braydon Coburn is still an option to open up some immediate cap room, it could mean moving on from Brayden Point, or dare I say Nikita Kucherov. And that just seems like a bad idea.

Now that Miller is taken care of, the Lightning have $5.3 million in cap space and still need to sign Adam Erne, Cedric Paquette, and Slater Koekkoek which should take less than $3 million to complete. Word has also been out there that the Lightning would like to re-sign Ryan McDonagh, the other piece in the trade with the Rangers. Any extension on his contract would not take effect until the 2019-20 season.