When the dust settled on one of the greatest 24-hour waiver periods in NHL history, nothing major happened that affected the roster of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the upcoming season. Not that we were expecting anyone to be claimed. Maybe some hoped someone would be claimed, but nothing happened.
To recap, nine players were placed on waivers on Monday (10 players who didn’t have to clear waivers were also re-assigned to Syracuse) and all nine passed through without another team in the league making a claim. While every team put a boatload of players on waivers in order to set their final rosters only four guys were actually claimed by other teams:
Carolina claims Anton Forsberg from Edmonton;— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) January 12, 2021
San Jose claims Rudolfs Balcers from Ottawa;
NJ claims Eric Comrie from Winnipeg;
Nashville claims Luca Sbisa from Winnipeg
So, Plan D or E for General Manager Julien BriseBois to get the Lightning under the salary cap worked out. Despite mass speculation, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn are on the team, though Johnson will miss opening night due to the machinations Mr. BriseBois had to pull off to maximize the amount of cap used before placing everyone on Long Term Injury Relief. That’s as far as I’m going to go to explain it, because, well, math is hard. (although Geo had an excellent write-up yesterday. Go read that.)
Three of the players that were on waivers were assigned to Syracuse as expected: Daniel Walcott, Luke Witkowski, and Spencer Martin. That trio will lend some veteran experience to the Crunch with Walcott or Witkowski likely being named captain of the hybrid Tampa/Florida AHL club once their season starts. Martin checks in as the number one goalie and is ready to be recalled should the Bolts need a fourth netminder at some point this season.
Andreas Borgman, Christopher Gibson, Gemel Smith, and Ben Thomas (!) will likely spend most of the season on the taxi squad. They might dip down into Syracuse for a week here or there to get some game action in, but that will depend on how the Lightning chose to manage their players and what health protocols players are subjected to when moving between the AHL and NHL.
Tyler Johnson and Luke Schenn technically start the season on the taxi squad, but may be back in the Lightning line-up as soon as Friday. Johnson, who has seen time in camp on Anthony Cirelli’s line as well as both power play units is almost certain to be back on the ice against Chicago in game number two, while Schenn could linger a little longer if Cal Foote plays well in his NHL debut on Wednesday.
As the Lightning wrapped up training camp on Tuesday with one final practice, the likely line combinations, power play units, and defensive pairings emerged.
Expected lines & D pairings for tomorrow vs #Blackhawks— Lightning Insider (@Erik_Erlendsson) January 12, 2021
Sergachev-Cernak #TBLightning #GoBolts
That’s not a bad looking group of folks to kick off a Stanley Cup defense. The McDonagh/Foote pairing implies that the rookie may get a pretty decent amount of work in his debut, and McDonagh is a fantastic partner for the Foote. He is able to cover up any mistakes Foote may make (although, don’t expect a lot) due to nerves and gives him a calm, experienced buddy to help him out of tight situations.
Johnson probably jumps into Mathieu Joseph’s spot when he returns on Friday, but that doesn’t mean Joseph is destined for the taxi squad. On Tuesday afternoon the Lightning announced that they had signed Cristovel “Boo” Nieves to a one-year/two-way contract in order to satisfy their need to sign an ex-New York Ranger every season.
Nieves was in camp on a try-out contract and the new deal probably eases a little stress he had during an off-season that was rough on mid-to-lower level free agent. Since he didn’t have a contract prior to Monday he wasn’t eligible to be put on waivers with everyone else. Expect that to happen tomorrow or the day after. If he clears, then he’ll most likely end up on the taxi squad in place of Johnson.
Mr. BriseBois can exhale slightly as he somehow managed to get the Lightning under the salary cap yet again. It’s unlikely that he’s sitting back and cracking open beers just yet as he has a long season ahead of maneuvering a team that is right up against the limit. There will probably be several players moving back and forth throughout the year as he squeezes every last dollar out of the cap that he can while simultaneously praying to whatever he finds holy that no one else is injured during the season.
With the boring financial part of the off-season completed, we can all focus on the fun part - actual on-ice hockey being played. While there aren’t many new faces, there are still a lot of changes that the Lightning will have to deal with in this sprint to the Stanley Cup.