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Quick Strikes: Reviewing Free Agency Day

Who did we sign and what’s next for the team.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Carolina Hurricanes
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 21: Curtis McElhinney #35 of the Carolina Hurricanes hugs the pipe and protects the net during an NHL game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 21, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

The Bolts

The Tampa Bay Lightning were dangerously low on goaltending depth heading into free agency. They ended up filling their quota on goalies and more.

First, Curtis McElhinney has been signed to a two-year deal to be the backup in Tampa Bay. [Raw Charge]

The 11-year veteran spent the majority of last season with the Carolina Hurricanes and was a key to their surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals. During the regular season he posted 20 wins in 33 games with a .912 SV% and 2.58 GAA. He appeared in another 5 games in the playoffs and recorded a .930 SV% and 2.01 GAA.

As a result, the Lightning are planning on moving Louis Domingue to a new destination. Looking at the numbers across both goalies, there’s a good bet that McElhinney is an upgrade on Domingue for $150,000 more in cash.

The Bolts also signed journeyman Luke Schenn to a league minimum deal, worth $700,000 for one season. He should be a good buffer between the NHL and AHL and totally willing to sit in the press box for the majority of the season. [Raw Charge]

Luke Schenn, not to be confused with his younger brother Brayden Schenn, is a right handed defenseman that turns 30 years old this November. He was a first round pick, 5th overall in 2008 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s listed at 6’2” and 220 pounds so he brings a good bit of size on the blue line. After four seasons with the Maple Leafs, he moved to the Philadelphia Flyers where he played for three and a half years. Since the Flyers, he has played for the Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks.

After the two moves were made, along with a bevy of AHL signings that we’ll get to below, General Manager Julien BriseBois addressed the media. [NHL dot com]

“I’m very comfortable going into the season with those players,” BriseBois said about his defensive corps, which includes veterans Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Braydon Coburn; youngsters Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak; and depth players Jan Rutta, Schenn and Witkowski. “At the same time as I’ve repeated in the past, we’re always looking for opportunities to improve our team.”

The Prospects

The Lightning also agreed to terms with former Lightning and Syracuse Crunch defenseman (and also right winger) Luke Witkowski on a two-year contract worth $700,000. The contract has differing salaries in the NHL and AHL, meaning it is a two-way contract. [Raw Charge]

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).

The Lightning also took their goaltending depth from non-existent to extremely deep. First, they signed Scott Wedgewood to a one-year contract worth $700,000. [Raw Charge]

Late in the afternoon, Lightning general manager Julian BriseBois commented on the Wedgewood signing during a media conference call, and specifically said Wedgewood was going to be taking over for Eddie Pasquale in Syracuse. Although this signing hasn’t officially been announced by the team yet, that certainly seemed like confirmation.

BriseBois also signed former Colorado Avalanche goaltender Spencer Martin to a one-year contract extension worth the same as Wedgewood.

The Crunch also bought former Toronto Marlies center Chris Mueller a one-year contract worth $700,000 for one season. The 33-year-old won the 2018 Calder Cup as the Marlies’ top-line center and has been an incredible mentor to young Marlies up and down the roster.

Mueller was in his first season with the Marlies during my first season covering the team and despite being in a whole new environment, Mueller was very patient and understanding and respectful to a young reporter like me and that relationship has continued to this day. I can safely say he carries the same demeanor around his teammates, and on the ice he’s a monster in front of the net, in transition, and in his own zone. He basically made Jeremy Bracco what he is today. A true top-line center in the AHL in every sense of the word.

Selfishly, I wish Mueller was still on the Marlies — they could really use him — but if there was anywhere else in the league he could’ve gone, Syracuse is the place I wanted him to land the most. I know it’ll be hard to replace a leader like Gabriel Dumont, but I truly believe that if anyone can do it, Mueller can. If I was one of the many young talents on the Crunch heading into next season, I would try to spend as much time as I could with Mueller. He is an amazing example of a professional athlete.

Okay, I’ve swooned enough. Thanks for the lessons, Chris.

One last thing from Syracuse/Orlando, the organization has signed yet another goaltender to an AHL contract. This one is former QMJHL star Zachary Fucale who’s looking for a fresh start and a road back to the AHL. [Syracuse Crunch]

Fucale, 24, appeared in five games with the Chicago Wolves last season posting a 1-3-0 record with a 2.51 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. The 6-foot-2, 187-pound netminder also played in 34 games with the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL recording a 20-9-3 record to go along with a 3.18 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.

The Game (mostly the Atlantic)

Around the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs have finally found their top-pairing right-handed defenseman. His name is Tyson Barrie, he came from the Colorado Avalanche, and he cost the Leafs Nazem Kadri. [Pension Plan Puppets]

The Toronto Maple Leafs have traded centre Nazem Kadri, defenseman Calle Rosen, and Columbus’ 2020 third-round pick, the one they got from Ottawa this morning, to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, and a 2020 sixth-round pick. In terms of cash, Colorado retains 50% of Barrie’s $5.5 million cap hit, which expires at the end of the season.

The Montreal Canadiens offer sheeted Sebastian Aho from the Carolina Hurricanes late Monday afternoon to a contract worth $8.454 million for the next five seasons. It was a bold move that quickly fizzled out as it became clear that Montreal’s hostile contract is definitely something the Hurricanes can match. In fact, it’s likely to come in at less than what players of Aho’s calibre will be paid at. Well played, Marc Bergevin. [Habs Eyes on the Prize]

Hopefully this move turns into a piece of leverage for teams like Colorado, Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Calgary, who all have high-end RFAs looking for a contract. Aho was signed first; he becomes the precedent. I did some rough math with the Bolts’ cap page, and roughly speaking the Lightning could spend up to $11 million on a Brayden Point contract for next season. If they can get that number closer to $8 million or $9 million, that leaves a lot of wiggle room going forward. Thanks, Montreal!