On Monday afternoon the Tampa Bay Lightning announced that they had signed veteran defenseman Luke Witkowski to a two-year, two way contract.
CapFriendly reports that the deal will pay Witkowski $1.4 million over the two years for an annual average value of $700,000. It is expected that he will spend most of the time in Syracuse where he was captain in 2016-17 during his previous stint in the organization.
The former Western Michigan University Bronco was a 6th round pick of the Lightning in 2008 and played in 54 games with the Lightning over the course of three seasons, picking up four assists and 58 penalty minutes during that time. With the Crunch, he played in 218 games during that time span racking up 524 penalty minutes and 39 points (7 goals, 32 assists).
He spent the last two seasons in Detroit where he appeared in 65 games for the Red Wings, scoring 1 goal and adding 5 assists. His most noteworthy moment with the Red Wings may have been the 10-game suspension he was issued following an altercation he had with during a game with Calgary. After being escorted off the ice by the officials following a fight, he was slashed on the ankle by Matthew Tkachuk. Witkowski returned to the ice surface and continued the altercation.
As indicated by those penalty numbers, Witkowski plays a physical game that doesn’t rely on much offense (although he has occasionally lined up in a forward position). The Crunch needed depth for a blueline that was a little thin on experience outside of Cameron Gaunce. Witkowski’s signing may be an indication that unrestricted free agent Hubert Labrie, who plays a similar defense-first, physical style of play, may not be coming back to Syracuse.
It also gives the Crunch a little flexibility should Dominik Masin or Cal Foote make the Lightning out of training camp. They wouldn’t be forced to suit up Oleg Sosunov every night, giving him a chance to develop in Orlando for another season. Expect Julien BriseBois and Stacy Roest to continue to add more pieces to the roster as the summer continues.
Fans clamoring for the Crunch to increase their physical play should be excited for this signing. It will be interesting to see how he fits into Ben Groulx’s system on a full time basis.