As the Tampa Bay Lightning head into their busiest day since the Stanley Cup, General Manager Julien BriseBois kicked things off by signing two of his Restricted Free Agents to new contracts. While they weren’t the big name RFA’s, both players played key roles in the organization last season and are important pieces moving forward.
First up was Mitchell Stephens. The 23-year-old center signed a two-year, one-way contract with a $737,500 AAV. made his NHL debut this season and put up 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) in 38 regular season games. He also saw action in 7 playoff games (but no Stanley Cup Final games) and picked up one goal.
The former second-round draft pick should spend most of the season in Tampa next season and would slot in seamlessly as the fourth line center if Cedric Paquette is moved for salary cap reasons. Stephens brings a little more speed into the line-up and is one of the team’s better face-off guys despite his relatively young age.
He can kill penalties and while he might not be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL should be able to kick in 10-15 goals depending on how he’s used. He’s the ideal forward for the way the Lightning like to play - fast, smart and willing to play hard all over the ice.
The other signing was Gemel Smith. He signed a one-year, two-way contract. Financial terms were not disclosed at the time of the signing, but it will probably be somewhere in the range of the typical $700,000/ $70,000 split.
Smith made the Lightning out of training camp last season and scored one goal in three games with the Bolts. After being assigned to the Crunch once Brayden Point returned to the line-up, he became one of the top offensive forces in Syracuse, putting up 40 points (22 goals, 18 assists) in 50 games. Overall he has 21 points (12 goals, 9 assists) in 77 NHL games split between the Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
While he is part of a group of players that may have a shot at making the Lightning with a strong training camp, chances are he is back in Syracuse to begin the season where he will slot in as their top center. At that point he’ll be on the short list to be recalled if Tampa Bay needs to fill in for injury. Smith plays his game with a bit of an edge, using speed and physical play to be a pain on the forecheck and his finishing skills were better than advertised after he signed as a free agent in 2019.
With those two signings the Lightning still have 11 RFA’s in the organization that need to be signed. Some of them are mere formalities (Dominik Masin, Dennis Yan, Ross Colton, Alex Volkov, Mathieu Joseph, Carter Verhaeghe), some will cost a little more (Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak) and a couple might not see an offer (Ben Thomas, Devante Stephens)