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What the Tampa Bay Lightning roster will look like in 2021

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We finally know!

Tampa Bay Lightning Victory Rally & Boat Parade
TAMPA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 30: Andrei Vasilevskiy #88, Nikita Kucherov #86 and Mikhail Sergachev #98 of the Tampa Bay Lightning holds the Stanley Cup above his head during the 2020 Stanley Cup Champion rally on September 30, 2020 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

We’ve been waiting all Fall for the salary cap shoe to drop on the Tampa Bay Lightning so they can become compliant for the 2021 NHL season. That answer has come in two parts and now we finally have a reasonable projection of what the roster and taxi squad are going to look like, and who the Syracuse Crunch are going to have.

I’ve done the math and put together a roster that should be very close to what the Lightning are going to run this season. Lineup changes and depth roles notwithstanding. Let’s go through the steps I took to get there, starting with how much money there is to spend.

LTIR

The Bolts placed Nikita Kucherov on LTIR last week after the Russian winger needed surgery on his hip. Kuch missing the season takes a large bite out of the team’s offense that won’t be recuperated by the likes of keeping Anthony Cirelli and a forward like Tyler Johnson.

The next shoe to drop was the trade with the Ottawa Senators. Braydon Coburn and Cedric Paquette (along with a 2021 second round pick) were traded off the books in exchange for forward Marian Gaborik and goaltender Anders Nilsson. Neither player will suit up for the Lightning this season, both will be on LTIR with Kucherov. Basically, the Lightning traded two players and a decent draft pick for nothing in order to find the money to become cap compliant.

As a result of these moves, the Lightning created a pool of $16,975,000 to absorb the three contracts that won’t play for them. Basically, it’s like Kucherov, Gaborik, and Nilsson don’t exist on the team’s cap for this season. Gaborik and Nilsson are free agents after this season so they’ll be properly gone, while Kucherov will be able to return, and the Lightning will have to find that room again to keep him.

One comment I will make on how Julien BriseBois came to a final roster is that someone like Johnson probably doesn’t provide $4 million in surplus value per season anymore. Maybe he’s a couple million dollar player, but not $5 million anymore. But at the same time, I don’t think Paquette and Coburn provide the surplus two players making ~$750k (ie. Stephens and Schenn). It’s not a big drop if there is one, plus the Lightning are able to drop a $3.35 million cap hit down to $1.5 million. That amount of savings ended up being the difference.

Unfortunately, JBB is going to have to do this dance all over again next summer.

Roster Composition

Looking at the team itself, the Bolts will be able to hold 21 players (12F, 7D, 2G) on their roster with about $200k-$300k in pool money left over. This extra money won’t grow through the year, it’s static so the Lightning will not be able to add at the trade deadline without taking away from their roster.

The Taxi Squad will consist of six players, and it is required that a third goalie be among the active roster or taxi squad at all times. These players will be making their AHL salaries this season and will require waivers to be sent from the Active Roster to the Taxi Squad using the normal waivers process (emergency recalls have yet to be adjusted). This is all meant to reduce the need for call-ups from the AHL or ECHL and keep rosters as static as possible so as to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Training Camp Rosters

Teams are allowed to bring a maximum 36 skaters and as many goaltenders as they can afford to training camp. The Lightning currently have 39 skaters under NHL contracts so they will have to take three off the list. These will likely be players who are either playing in Europe or in junior and will not want to leave their bubbles for a two-week training camp, especially if they’re not going to make the NHL team.

Here are a list of players who will most likely not be attending camp:

  • Gage Goncalves (WHL)
  • Jack Finley (WHL)
  • Gabriel Fortier (QMJHL)
  • Otto Somppi (Liiga)
  • Alexey Lipanov (VHL)

Goncalves and Finley are in Canada and preparing for their WHL seasons. Fortier is also in Canada, playing his age-20 season in the QMJHL. Somppi was loaned to Finland at the start of their season and is still with the team (his team, Lehden, play tomorrow). Alexey Lipanov was loaned to the KHL with Dynamo Moscow and has been in the VHL, I don’t think he’s coming back from camp).

I said the Lightning needed to get light three players, but I’ve listed five who most likely won’t be there anyway. As a result, they have two training camp spots that they can give away either with a contract or a PTO. They could use a defenseman better than Luke Schenn to battle Cal Foote for that 3RD spot.

The Active Roster

Here is my prediction for the Lightning’s active roster, at least to start.

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Steven Stamkos
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Yanni Gourde
Barclay Goodrow - Blake Coleman - Tyler Johnson
Pat Maroon - Mitchell Stephens - Mathieu Joseph

Volkov is in the mix for that fourth line job, along with the likes of Alex Barre-Boulet and Ross Colton. Free agent forwards like Brian Boyle, Trevor Lewis, and Devin Shore are all out there. I could see Coleman move up to the first line and return Stamkos to Cirelli. It all depends on Jon Cooper’s preference.

Defense

Victor Hedman - Erik Cernak
Ryan McDonagh - Jan Rutta
Mikhail Sergachev - Cal Foote
Luke Schenn

On defense, Cal Foote has a job if he can beat Luke Schenn (if he can’t by now, he’s not an NHLer). A note on Sergachev, who I must say will be playing much higher than the third pair on a given night. His regular partners from last season (Coburn and Kevin Shattenkirk) are gone, so he’ll be with Hedman or on his own in the offensive zone constantly.

I wonder if the team are looking for another Shattenkirk type and move Foote down to the seventh spot. Sami Vatanen is apparently not under consideration. but maybe Madison Bowey is. There’s also Travis Hamonic out there as a free agent probably willing to take league minimum.

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Curtis McElhinney

Goaltending will be what it was last season. There is no room for a third goalie on this roster if the team wants to have seven defensemen as an option every night, so the third guy will have to be on the taxi squad.

The Taxi Squad

  1. Alex Volkov (LW)
  2. Alex Barre-Boulet (LW)
  3. Ross Colton (C)
  4. Andreas Borgman (LD)
  5. Luke Witkowski (RD)
  6. Spencer Martin (G)

ABB will be on this roster if he can win himself a spot in camp, he’ll need to prove that he has something to contribute in a bottom-of-the-lineup role. Gemel Smith is a man with NHL experience who will otherwise take this spot. I mentioned Ross Colton alongside ABB in my Top 25 Under 25 Recap. You can read my thoughts on why he’s on this squad there.

I know Andreas Borgman from his time in Toronto and he is a good depth defenseman. He crashes and bangs, but also knows how to play a quick puck possession game. He has NHL experience and will make a decent injury replacement. Witkowski is an obvious member of this group, too. You don’t want him playing every night, but he’s there in a pinch.

Spencer Martin is technically the third-best goalie in the Lightning’s system so as things stands, he has to be on this squad. Ideally, the Lightning will sign another goalie and he can make a tandem with Chris Gibson for the Crunch. Notable free agents include Cory Schneider, Jimmy Howard, or Jared Coreau (as an AHL guy).

The Syracuse Crunch

Here is what’s left of the NHL contracts that will be moving to the AHL once that season starts. I’ve kept those on loan out of this since we don’t know if/when they’re coming back.

Forwards

Boris Katchouk - Gemel Smith - Taylor Raddysh
Daniel Walcott - Jimmy Huntington - Ryan Lohin

Defense

Ben Thomas - Alex Green
Sean Day - Dmitri Semykin

Goalies

Christopher Gibson

We’ll know a lot more about what the Crunch intend to look like once that season is confirmed. There is a lot of AHL talent out there waiting for some stability before jumping into a season.

I can’t get into all of the AHL contracts right now, that is an article for another day. For now, here is a grouping of all the NHL contracts that I think are going to end up in the AHL once that season starts. I went into a lot more detail in an article I did in October, linked below.

So that’s my best guess of the team. I hope I’m close!