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What do the 2021-22 Tampa Bay Lightning look like without Gourde and Johnson?

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And a mini free-agency preview.

2021 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
TAMPA, FLORIDA - JULY 07: Mathieu Joseph #7 of the Tampa Bay Lightning hoists the Stanley Cup in all its glory after their 1-0 victory in Game Five of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final to win the series four games to one against the Montreal Canadiens at Amalie Arena on July 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Yanni Gourde is off to the Seattle Kraken and Tyler Johnson was just traded to Chicago, meaning the Tampa Bay Lightning are capable of icing a cap-legal team for next year. And just for the record, they were able to last year, Panthers/Canes/Islanders/Canadiens fans

Surprisingly, the top six, top four, and top goalie of the Lightning haven’t changed at all. The core productive players are still here, ready for a three-peat. What will be interesting is who is going to run alongside them and fill out the rest of the lineup. Here’s the bare bones of the roster as it sits right now and how much space they’ll have to fill in the unknowns.

The Projected 2021-22 Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos
Mathieu Joseph - 3C - 3RW
4LW - 4C - Pat Maroon

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - 3RD

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Backup

Cap Space*: $7.24 million with 14 skaters under contract

That’s a pretty good base to start from.

*I have oversimplified how LTIR works, don’t worry about it.

Options for Bottom-Six Center

The Lightning have lost their third and fourth line centers from the playoff run, so they will need to be replaced. Luckily, there are some good internal options who are currently RFAs, as well as some UFAs now on the open market.

Internal Options

  • Mitchell Stephens ($737.5k)
  • Ross Colton (RFA)
  • Gemel Smith ($750k)
  • Alex Barre-Boulet (RFA)

I think Colton and Stephens have the inside track for this job, but are rather inexperienced. It would be a big leap for one of them to jump up and center the third line for Jon Cooper. But he’s never been shy to give players a chance.

My biggest apprehension is Ross Colton’s production moving forward. Yes, he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal so his name will be etched in history, but during the regular season he had quite the elevated shooting percentage and it’s risky to assume it’ll be that high next season. Stephens was also injured for much of last year, and didn’t play in the finals, so it would be a big jump for him if he took 3C instead. This is why I’m interested in going shopping for a hopefully cheap 3C.

External Options

  • Jordan Martinook (29, UFA)
  • David Kampf (26, UFA)
  • Erik Haula (30, UFA)
  • Riley Nash (32, UFA)
  • Pius Suter (25, UFA no QO)
  • Tomas Nosek (28, UFA)

I don’t know what these players would cost, but I think the Lightning could afford something north of $2 million here. This all depends on how much they can save on the backup goalie, depth defense, and wingers. I think they should invest some real money in 3C, as it’s the most vital position.

Options for Bottom-Six Wing

The Lightning have lots of wingers to fill these two positions (and extras) if they want to. There’s also a chance they get a cheap UFA or two to push some talent down and keep their strong depth, especially when more than one of these players on my list are going to be legitimate rookies.

Internal Options

  • Taylor Raddysh (RFA)
  • Boris Katchouk (RFA)
  • Stephens/Colton/Smith/ABB
  • Daniel Walcott ($750k)
  • Blake Coleman (29, UFA)

I like Katchouk and Raddysh (the former more than the latter), but they haven’t had any NHL experience yet. Expecting them to jump right onto the third line is quite optimistic. For now, I think they’re fourth line options, or regular scratches that will get into a few games per month. Walcott is probably going to be the captain of the Crunch next year, so probably not him either.

Keeping Coleman would be excellent, but I can’t imagine the Lightning can afford him.

This leads to external options for the third line.

External Options

  • Corey Perry (36, UFA)
  • Alex Galchenyuk (27, UFA)
  • Josh Leivo (28, UFA)
  • Zach Parise (36, UFA bought out)
  • Nick Merkley (24, UFA no QO)
  • Vinnie Hinostroza (27, UFA)
  • Michael Bunting (25, UFA)

Obviously there are lots of options so I threw as many hats in the ring as possible. Perry would be nice since he’s old and wouldn’t want a big contract. Galchenyuk is coming off a revival with the Leafs and is currently a UFA. Giving him a bit over a million would be a smart bet. Parise has been an interest of mine since he got bought out as he brings energy and smarts every shift, and he’s still a good player.

I think filling these two spots with one internal and one external option will be the way they go. The wing will be compromised based on what happens at center.

Options for Depth Defense

Again, let’s look at the internal options to fill out the sixth and seventh defensemen for the team.

Internal Options

  • Cal Foote (RFA)
  • David Savard (UFA)
  • Luke Schenn (UFA)
  • Ben Thomas (UFA)
  • Fredrik Claesson ($750k)

I think Foote will get 3RD out of default. I don’t expect him to make much more than he made last year. David Savard would be great, and there’s been talks of bringing him back, but it all depends on how much. He made $4.25 million last year, which is more than half the money available. Schenn is reported to be signing with the Edmonton Oilers on a long-term deal, I don’t think the Lightning cap match that so best of luck to him.

External Options

  • Jani Hakanpää (29, RD, UFA)
  • Zach Bogosian (31, RD, UFA)
  • Ben Hutton (28, LD, UFA)
  • Christian Djoos (26, LD, UFA)
  • Braydon Coburn (36, LD, UFA)
  • Alex Biega (33, RD, UFA)
  • Jake McCabe (27, LD, UFA)

I’d honestly be happy with any of these options, bringing back Bogosian or Coburn would be fun. We’ll see what they do, but I don’t think they’ll need to pay more than league minimum for this position after re-signing Foote to some minimum deal as well.

Options for Backup

I expect Curtis McElhinney to retire so I think the Lightning are going to go with Spencer Martin or re-sign Chris Gibson to be the backup goalie next year. I would not be interested in Martin Jones one bit, he’s arguably the worst goalie in the league, even worse than a lot of AHL-tweeners. That’s why the Sharks, who had no reason to buy him out for competitive reasons, got rid of him.

Braden Holtby would be someone I look into following his buyout by the cap-strapped Canucks. He could enjoy a resurrection behind a comfortable starter in Vasy and good defense shuttled by Hedman.

Basically, if there’s a goalie available for less than a million, go right ahead. The Lightning don’t need to pay more than that for this position with Vasy in the driver’s seat.

The Projected 2021-22 Tampa Bay Lightning (ft. Numbers)

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos
Mathieu Joseph - Jordan Martinook ($2.5m) - Zach Parise ($1.0m)
Stephens (800k) - Colton (800k) - Pat Maroon

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Cal Foote ($800k)
Alex Biega ($750k)

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Braden Holtby ($1.0m)

This team only has enough space for 21 players, which is usually how the Lightning operate anyway, with the extra guy being a defenseman. This team also doesn’t account for waivers, which will definitely be a painful thing and something the Lightning might think long and hard about. ABB, Raddysh, and Katchouk are all notable absences from the roster above that would need it.

Poll

Is this team good enough to three-peat?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    Yes, let’s ride!
    (247 votes)
  • 21%
    No, they need to do something else
    (66 votes)
313 votes total Vote Now