It feels like it’s been a while since I could say this, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have a pretty easy Restricted Free Agent situation in front of them this summer compared to recent offseasons. Going into 2020-21, they had Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak as big names to sign. The previous summer it was Brayden Point, but they also took care of Andrei Vasilevskiy’s big extension. Before the 2018 season, they had J.T. Miller, but also got Nikita Kucherov’s extension done a year early. In 2017 it was Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. In 2016, it was Alex Killorn and Kucherov. Not to mention Steven Stamkos’ UFA contract and signing Victor Hedman a year early. Going into the 2015-16 season may have been the last time the RFA contracts were as easy as they’ll be this year, with Andrej Sustr being the only significant RFA that needed a new contract.
For this offseason, the Lightning have a handful of RFAs that need to be signed, just as they do every year, but none of them are big ticket RFAs. Most of them will be for league minimum deals where the real negotiation is on how much the minor league salary is, and if there’s a minimum guarantee more than the minor league salary, which is pretty common for AHL veterans that serve as depth pieces for an organization.
Only three names on the list saw NHL action this season; Ross Colton, Cal Foote, and Alex Barre-Boulet. The other players needing new contracts are AHLers Taylor Raddysh, Otto Somppi, Boris Katchouk, Ryan Lohin, and Sean Day. Let’s go through each of them and do a little predicting on their next contracts.
Colton is coming off of a one-year, two-way contract that paid him $700,000 in the NHL and $100,000 in the minors with a minimum guarantee of $125,000. Safe to say that with the amount of time he spent on the NHL roster this season, he blew past that $125,000 guarantee. Colton was a bit of a surprise for most fans, but was a player I had been looking at prior to the season, and even going back to the beginning of the 2019-20 season as a dark horse to make the team.
He played in three games in the AHL for the Syracuse Crunch before Mitchell Stephens was injured, which led to Colton coming up to the Taxi Squad and eventually making it into the line-up. In 30 games, he put up nine goals, three assists, and twelve points. He followed that with four goals and two assist for six points in twenty-three playoff games.
Colton provided valuable depth in the bottom six and ended up playing on the Cirelli line during the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final in place of an injured Alex Killorn. Oh, and he may have scored the Stanley Cup Winning Goal.
I know a lot of people have fallen in love with him, and I know I’m going to probably anger some people with this. But Colton went on a big shooting bender. He was an effective player, even if you take away his overshooting expectations in goal scoring. This is a player that in his first two seasons in the AHL scored 14 goals in 66 games and 11 goals in 61 games. Expecting him to be a 20+ goal scorer in the NHL now is probably a bit of a stretch, with his playoff goal scoring rate probably being closer to what he actually should be expected to do in the NHL.
I think the Lightning will point to that, and his ice time, to keep his price a bit lower than some might expect. Evolving-Hockey projects that he’ll sign for 2 years at $1.45 million. Their projection on a one-year deal is $1.16 million. I won’t be surprised if he ends up signing a one-year deal for $1 million or a two-year deal for $1.25 million. A three-year deal is unlikely as the Lightning do not like for RFA contracts to end the year the player would become eligible for unrestricted free agency. Also going long-term based on a 53 game sample size is not a wise move.
Barre-Boulet is coming off of a three-year entry level contract that had a cap hit of $759,258. He had a $77,777 signing bonus and $700,000 NHL salary with a $70,000 minor league salary. He played in 15 games for the Lightning, scoring 3 goals, and did not appear during the playoffs. The Lightning still likely don’t know exactly what they have in Barre-Boulet, and he really didn’t show enough during his 15 game audition, which included a stint on the top line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat where he failed to produce much, though his underlying metrics were decent.
Evolving-Hockey projects him to a two-year $777,600 contract. The league minimum this season is $750,000 and this would make it a similar deal to what Mathieu Joseph and Mitchell Stephens signed last season. I think this would be good for the Lightning to give him a little extra guaranteed to get the extra season. If he has a monster season with a bigger role in 2021-22, then it makes his salary for 2022-23 even more of a bargain. The down side is that by giving him a one-way contract for more than a season means that if he can’t make it in the NHL, they’ll have to pay him that full NHL level salary for two seasons. Also if you’re Barre-Boulet, maybe you want to bet on yourself with just a one-year deal, compared to Joseph and Stephens picking a little bit more financial security.
My prediction is that Barre-Boulet will sign a one-year, one-way contract for the league minimum of $750,000.
Cal Foote made his NHL debut season this year, appearing in 35 games with a goal and 3 points. He was in and out of the line up as the coaching staff eased him into the NHL game with sheltered minutes. He played fairly well, but was basically out of the line up following the trade deadline and through the playoffs. Foote is coming off of his entry level contract that had a $925,000 capt hit and paid him $832,500 in the NHL and $70,000 in the minors with a $92,500 signing bonus and $500,000 in potential performance bonuses each season.
Foote is expected to once again be in the Lightning’s line up on the third pair behind Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta. Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection for Foote is for two years at $1.08 million. He didn’t establish himself in the same way that Erik Cernak did in his rookie debut and won’t command a big contract. Like Colton, I could see him signing a deal like that, or a slightly cheaper one year deal with the hope of establishing himself more firmly this season and then signing a bigger two-year contract when this contract expires. If the Lightning go to a two-year contract, it would expire with two RFA years left, meaning that the next contract would likely be a longer term deal, assuming that he keeps progressing as an NHL defenseman.
My prediction is that he’ll sign a one-year, one-way contract for $950,000 and look to cash in bigger next offseason.
Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk
I’m lumping both of these players together because they look pretty identical. They were both 2nd round picks by the Lightning in 2016 and are coming off of identical entry-level contracts. Neither player has made their NHL debut yet, though Raddysh spent some time on the Taxi Squad and both were with the team as black aces through the playoffs and got to take a lap with the Cup after Game Five.
Both players struggled in their first two seasons in the AHL. The transition from the OHL to the AHL was a rough one for both. This past season though, they both showed a lot more offense that had been expected of them. Raddysh recorded 12 goals and 29 points in 27 games for the Syracuse Crunch and Katchouk had 11 goals and 34 points in 29 games. They both were also able to keep their penalty minutes down this season as well.
Both players will have an opportunity to step up and take some roster spots in the bottom sixth and as the 13th forward on the roster. They’re both waiver eligible starting with this season so the Lightning would be risking losing them for nothing if they attempted to send them back to the AHL. I think they’ll both be on the roster barring injury and challenging for ice time, not just on the fourth line, but also on the third line.
For both players, I expect they’ll sign one-year, two-way contracts with a $750,000 cap hit at the league minimum with minor league salaries of $100,000 and minimum guarantees of $150,000. This contract structure would be similar to what Ross Colton signed last season as a RFA coming off of his ELC before making his NHL debut.
Otto Somppi and Ryan Lohin
Once again, I’m lumping these two together. Neither one has progressed very far as AHLers and neither are really in the running for roster spots, barring some miraculous progression in the off-season, though Somppi is further up the depth chart than Lohin. Somppi is a two-way center that put up 12 goals and 26 points in 32 games for the Syracuse Crunch, finally breaking out and showing some of his offensive potential in the AHL. Lohin put up 7 goals and 15 points in 25 games for the Syracuse Crunch and added 5 goals and 7 points early in the season for the Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL. Lohin only played 15 games in 2019-20 before undergoing knee surgery for a nagging long term injury he had been playing through.
Both of these players could still be part of the Lightning’s future, but mostly as depth fill-in pieces. Lohin is already 25-years-old and is running out of time to make enough of an impact to make it to the NHL. I expect both players to sign one-year, two-way contracts with a $750,000 cap hit, and a $100,000 minor league salary with $125,000 guaranteed.
The last restricted free agent is defenseman Sean Day. He originally signed an entry level contract with the New York Rangers and had it terminated prior to the 2020-21 season. He signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Lightning with a $700,000 salary cap hit and $95,000 minor league salary. He played well for the Syracuse Crunch picking up 3 goals and 15 points in 29 games.
I think Day will get a small bump in his pay, with a $750,000 NHL salary and a $125,000 minor league salary.