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Tampa Bay Lightning Restricted Free Agent Predictions

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Looking to one crucial part of the Lightning’s offseason.

Ottawa Senators v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Every summer, there are a number of players with their current contract expiring. For some of these players, they will have the opportunity to explore unrestricted free agency and have at least some input on their next playing destination. For the rest that haven’t qualified to be unrestricted free agents yet, they will become restricted free agents (RFAs). This summer, the Lightning have eight players that are RFAs.

In theory, other teams are allowed to sign RFAs to offer sheets. To do so, they must have certain draft picks available to trade depending on the salary offered to the player. The team owning the player’s rights then has the ability to either match the offer and sign the player for themselves. If they decline, then the signing team forfeits the appropriate picks to the original team. I say “in theory” here because it’s rare for a player to sign an offer sheet from another team.

There is a lot of fear of retaliation among General Managers around the NHL. There’s also a belief that you should only sign a player to an offer sheet if you think you have a very, very high, almost guaranteed chance that the other team can’t afford to match it. But then you’re also giving up draft picks, on top of a higher salary, that may not be worth the player. While it’s possible, it just doesn’t happen enough to really consider worrying about a player being poached.

For the Lightning, four players currently at the NHL level are restricted free agents with four more that are in the minor leagues. We’ll go through each player and I’ll try my best to make an educated guess at the kind of contract the player will sign for. For a little modeling help, we’ll also be referencing Evolving-Hockey’s contract projections that can be found here.

Before I continue, a couple of thoughts on Evolving Hockey’s projections. This is a model based projection. It is using a combination of past contract and statistical data, combined with future looking modeling. They calculate a range of possibilities for a player signing contracts of various lengths and varying salary cap hits. There is also a small error in that for some players the model is projecting less than the minimum salary of $700,000 for next season.

I’ve looked through the a good chunk of the projections. My general feeling has been that for the most part the projections are pretty in line with my intuition on a number of a players. But there are a few that look wildly different from my expectations. This is going to happen with a model, especially one that is fairly new and still needs some work. So, we’ll take it with some grains of salt, but there’s more good here than bad.

Brayden Point

EH Projection: 5 years, $8,313,740

Projection: 5 years, $8,250,000

This one is the big elephant in the room. Point set new highs in just about every category with 41 goals and 92 points. He’s also a part of a rather large group of RFAs coming off of their entry level contracts and having a huge season. The last round of big RFAs, outside of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Jack Eichel, there had been few big stars that had big years in the last year of their entry level contract. Most of these young RFAs from the last four or five years had been really good players, but didn’t become stars until after signing their second contract.

Point finds himself in a group with Mikko Rantanen, Mitch Marner, Sebastian Aho, Matthew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, Kyle Connor, and Patrik Laine that have had really good performances and are going to be paid big. Point though is the oldest of this group, and that might have an impact on his negotiations even though his season was as good or better than most of this group. The rest of the group is 21 or 22 years old as they all reached in the NHL prior to turning 20 years old. Point turned 23 in March.

I think there is also something to be said about the general rise in offense of the NHL the past two seasons. That is something that could play against Point when trying to compare him to previous RFA signings like Leon Draisaitl. If he scored 92 points two years ago, he would have finished second in the Art Ross race. In 2014-15, he would have won the Art Ross by five points. Scoring is up, and playing with Nikita Kucherov certainly enhanced his offensive production.

With all of that in mind, and especially after Auston Matthews signed his monster, five-year contract, I started to think that a five-year deal was more appropriate for Point. It would keep the salary cap number down a little bit more and would control him through his age-27 season. He’d be in a position to sign another five year deal after that and still be just 33 years old when that contract was finished.

So with that, I give my projection of five years and a $8.25 million salary cap hit. In the research I had done previously, I had settled on $8-$8.5 million being the probable range. Seeing Evolving Hockey’s projection just solidified that number for me and I projected right in the middle.

Adam Erne

EH Projection: 2 years, $1,033,608

Projection: 2 years, $1,000,000

Now that we have Point out of the way, this all gets a lot easier. Erne got his first full season up in the NHL this past year on a one-year, one-way contract for $800,000. He scored seven goals and 20 points over 65 games. While he has never flourished into the top six power forward he was envisioned as when he was drafted, he has finally started to find his footing in the NHL. He’s a capable bottom six forward and has done more than enough to earn a little bit of security in his next contract. The deal would also expire with him remaining an RFA.

Cedric Paquette

EH Projection: 2 years, $1,403,653

Projection: 2 years, $1,300,000

Paquette had a big year in goal scoring, played well on the penalty kill, and was a good even strength faceoff man. However, it’s fair to question if he’ll score nearly as many goals again next season. With Mitchell Stephens waiting in the wings of the minors, and with the salary cap crunching in on the Lightning, it may be better to move on from Paquette. A one-year deal would keep him as a RFA when it expires, but a two-year deal would make him a UFA on expiration.

Danick Martel

EH Projection: 1 year, $762,442

Projection: 1 years, $700,000

Martel was claimed on waivers by the Lightning during training camp and was held on the roster for the entire year so that the Lightning would gain full control of him going forward. He only played in nine games and recorded two assists for the Lightning. There’s skill here, but he was not given a chance to show it off this year. A one-year minimum salary contract seems about right.

Mitch Hults

EH Projection: No Projection

Projection: Non-tendered

The Lightning acquired Hults from the Anaheim Ducks for future considerations. He played in nine games for the Syracuse Crunch recording a goal and four points. He spent most of his season in the ECHL with the Orlando Solar Bears scoring 26 points in 40 games. While he had a decent 2017-18 season in the AHL for San Diego’s farm affiliate, he never grabbed on to a spot in Syracuse. It’s probably better for him and the organization to move on.

Carter Verhaeghe

EH Projection: No Projection

Projection: 1 year, two-way contract, $700,000/$200,000

Verhaeghe is coming off of a one-year, two-way contract that paid him $100,000 in the minors. He had a huge season for the Syracuse Crunch scoring 34 goals and 82 points over 76 games. Verhaeghe is a late bloomer and could find himself fighting for a roster spot on the Lightning in training camp. He has certainly earned a bump in his minor league salary to befit his contributions in the AHL.

Dominik Masin

EH Projection: No Projection

Projection: 1 year, two-way contract, $700,000/$100,000

Masin had a good sophomore season, but slid back in his third professional season. He’s a long way from making the NHL at this point and this will be his second contract. The $100,000 minor league salary will give him a slight bump from the $70,000 he made last season and is pretty typical of lower end prospects coming off of their ELC in the minors.

Ben Thomas

EH Projection: No Projection

Projection: 1 year, two-way contract, $700,000/$100,000

Like Masin, Thomas is coming off of his entry level contract. He hasn’t done much to show he’s an NHL prospect, but is still good enough to bring back for another year in the AHL as a bottom pairing defenseman.