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Explaining the Tyler Johnson and Brent Seabrook salary cap trade

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It’s complicated, but also simple.

NHL: JAN 09 Hurricanes at Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally made a move to clear salary cap space by moving forward Tyler Johnson and a 2023 second-round draft pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Brent Seabrook. It was long speculated that the Lightning would need to give up a pretty big asset to move Johnson and they did so by moving a second-round pick. It gives them valuable cap relief though, shedding his $5 million cap hit over the next three seasons.

As part of getting Johnson’s contract off the books, the Lightning had to take on Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook. Seabrook is LTIRetired after going through a multitude of surgeries, including right shoulder and both hips, and injuring his back over the past couple of years. He will not be dressing at any point for the Lightning. Seabrook has three years remaining on his contract with a $6.875 million cap hit.

It was initially reported by Chris Johnston that the Lightning would create an additional $1.8(75) million in cap space with the deal beyond Tyler Johnson’s cap hit. However, he later backtracked on that after he was informed otherwise.

There’s still a lot of confusion out there because of his report and other media members and fans picking up on it. The correction has yet to be widely circulated or picked up on by those fans. I want to give a quick explanation of why this deal is effectively the same for Tampa whether they took Seabrook back or not.

Using CapFriendly.com and their current Lightning roster, prior to moving Tyler Johnson, the Lightning had roughly $750,000 in cap space. If the Lightning had just moved Tyler Johnson, they would have $5,750,000 in cap space to add to the roster. With Seabrook, the Lightning are $1,120,122 over the cap. With Seabrook, the Lightning can add up to $5,750,000 in cap hits to the books without going over the cap. The mechanics of the situation are a little different because of using LTIR, but the end result is almost the same. The Lightning will have to do some Opening Night juggling to make the most of LTIR, but they can do that.

Disadvantages

By taking on Seabrook’s contract and committing to using LTIR for the 2021-22 season, the Lightning have given themselves a couple of disadvantages.

  1. When a team is using Long Term Injured Reserve, they are not accumulating spare cap space. This is normally what allows a team to add a higher cap hit player than the cap space available at the trade deadline. Like last year with David Savard, the Lightning won’t have that accruing space and would have to get creative to add any pieces at the deadline.
  2. Any Performance Bonus Overages carry over to the next season. Last year, the Lightning ended up having $145,122 in performance bonuses paid out to players on Entry Level Contracts. Because the Lightning used LTIR, that bonus money was carried over to this season as an overage. That’s not too much of a worry this season though, as the Lightning are unlikely to have any players with Entry Level Contract performance bonuses playing a big enough role to make much in the way of bonuses. The current Entry Level Contracts the Lightning have signed also have very minimal performance bonuses with the most being $132,500 for four players that are unlikely to be in the NHL this season. Players drafted outside the first round typically do not have high performance bonuses in their ELCs.
  3. The Lightning will have to deal with these disadvantages for three seasons, unless the Lightning move Seabrook’s contract sometime in the future before it runs out.

Some people have pointed out that moving Seabrook’s contract back was also for monetary reasons for Chicago so they didn’t have to pay the $15 million still owed to him on top of the $14 million still owed to Johnson. While we don’t know any of the real details, it’s highly unlikely that Chicago didn’t have insurance on Seabrook’s contract that pays them out in this exact kind of situation. That insurance policy would be transferred over to the Lightning as part of the deal. Such insurance policies generally don’t pay 100% of the contract salary, and the percentage is dependent on how much the team is willing to pay in premiums for the insurance policy. It could just be a few million that is still the team’s responsibility or 40% or 60% or even the full salary if Chicago for some reason didn’t take out an insurance policy, but that is money that Chicago saves while they have to pay for Tyler Johnson.

Projected cap situation and roster needs

The previously quoted numbers include a roster with Gemel Smith on it and that gave the Lightning about $5.75 million cap space. If we remove Smith for the moment, since it’s possible he’ll end up in the AHL, that means the Lightning have $6.5 million to work with to wrap up the roster. Free agency will open shortly after this article gets posted and the restricted free agents have yet to sign contracts, so these numbers are in a bit of flux. I’ll use my previous projections and show how the Lightning can maximize their salary cap space using Long Term Injured Reserve. I’ll also use my previous projections for contracts of RFAs until those numbers can be set when they’re signed.

Currently Signed and Will be on NHL Roster: Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, Pat Maroon, Mitchell Stephens, Mathieu Joseph, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, Jan Rutta, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brent Seabrook (LTIR).

Total For Signed Players: $81,725,000

Bonus Overage: $145,122

Current Cap Hit Total: $81,870,122

Salary Cap Total Target: $88,375,000

Remaining Room: $6,504,878

RFA Fill-Ins: Ross Colton ($1.25m), Alex Barre-Boulet ($750k), Taylor Raddysh ($750k), Boris Katchouk ($750k), Cal Foote ($950k)

Remaining Room After RFAs: $2,054,878

With this remaining room, the Lightning need to add a seventh defenseman and a back-up goaltender. The Lightning could spend up to around $1.25 million on a back-up goaltender and league minimum on a defenseman. They could also use Fredrik Claesson who signed a league minimum contract as the 7th defenseman.

Once the RFA contracts are locked in and the roster situation is a little more clear in Training Camp, I’ll do another write up to dig into the numbers as they are and look at how the Lightning can finagle the most out of their LTIR situation. Right now, there are too many little variables to clearly explain the different permutations of roster construction and maximizing the LTIR Salary Cap Relief.

In the end, the Lightning have solved their Salary Cap issue by moving Johnson and that’s the most important thing.

Farewell

On a more personal note, it’s sad to see Johnson go. Johnson was the third entry level contract that Steve Yzerman signed after taking the job as Lightning General Manager. Johnson was a part of a Calder Cup Championship in Norfolk. His name is etched in the Cup twice. He leaves the team 7th in games played, 5th in goals, 9th in assists, 9th in points, and the only player in Lightning history to score a hat trick in the playoffs.

Johnson carried the team in a playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings. He centered the famed Triplets line of 2014-15. He sacrificed for this team, especially this past year when the team tried to move him, failed, and ended up keeping him on the way to a back-to-back Stanley Cup Championship. He was a true professional and handled himself with class.

I’ll miss you Johnny B. Goode.