We’re less than a month away from the 2022-23 NHL season opener. Training camp is getting underway today. We’re almost there. Hockey is almost back!
So let’s celebrate with a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s salary cap situation to open up the season, some options they’ll have early in the season, and what their trade deadline situation might look like in terms of adding players to the roster.
One of the biggest shocks of the off-season was General Manager Julien BriseBois deciding he needed to move on from Ryan McDonagh and trading him to the Nashville Predators. While that trade had a big impact on the depth of the Lightning’s blue line, it also cleared the way for BriseBois to get restricted free agent deals done a year ahead of time for center Anthony Cirelli as well as defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak. He’s left himself with just Ross Colton and Cal Foote as the only big restricted free agents to deal with next summer.
In the McDonagh deal, BriseBois added big right-handed defenseman Philippe Myers to the backend as a bit of a reclamation project. Myers had a good couple of years for the Philadelphia Flyers, but fell off last season with the Nashville Predators and ended up in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies for part of the season as well. BriseBois signed Myers to a one-year extension at a lower cap hit for 2023-24 that will drop him from $2.55 million this year to $1.4 million next year.
Unfortunately, the team had to let Ondrej Palat walk in free agency as they were just not able to make things work with him. I expected this to happen, but had a small little bit of hope that they’d be able to figure out a way forward. It sounded like Palat was willing to listen, but they couldn’t make it work. The Lightning did re-sign Nick Paul though, giving him a long-term contract with a cap hit of $3.15 million per year.
On the free agent front, the team brought back a former first round pick of the organization in Vladislav Namestnikov to help fill in for the loss on Ondrej Palat up front. On the back end, the Lightning signed defenseman Ian Cole to take the third pairing left side on the blue line spot for a year. Additionally, the Lightning brought in Haydn Fleury on a league minimum two-year deal to give the organization some depth and to fill in a gap early in the season while Zach Bogosian recovers from off-season shoulder injury.
Speaking of shoulder surgery, Zach Bogosian and Anthony Cirelli will be on the shelf for the first month or two of the season after both had shoulder surgery over the summer. Both will return to game action early enough in the season that I’m not particularly worried about their absence and it’s impact on the team through the length of the season. The length of their absence will be long enough for the team to use Long Term Injured Reserve on both players as well, which will lessen the salary cap impact of their early absences from the season.
Alright, now to the part that you’re probably here to read about. The salary cap. At least, I hope you’re here to read about this part.
The salary cap for the 2022-23 season is $82.5 million. Since Cirelli and Bogosian will start the season on Long Term Injured Reserve, the first step is to look at the roster that you want to be at when both return. Because LTIR only gives salary cap relief for the duration that the player is on LTIR, and neither are missing the entire regular season, whatever salary the Lightning add in their place needs to be removed when they return.
To start, we’ll add up the players that I would expect will be on the roster later in the season when everyone is fully healthy.
- Forwards - Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, Steven Stamkos, Nick Paul, Brandon Hagel, Ross Colton, Vladislav Namestnikov, Pat Maroon, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Corey Perry
- Defense - Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, Ian Cole, Erik Cernak, Philippe Myers, Cal Foote, Zach Bogosian
- Goalies - Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brian Elliott
In this configuration, the Lightning have 12 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders with $1.2 million in cap space remaining. That means the Lightning have a spot for one extra forward, but are only able to have two extra skaters total on the roster (one forward and one defenseman).
That gives us one free space on the roster for a forward that can be on the roster for the whole season and would be the 13th forward after Cirelli’s return. Once we back Cirelli and Bogosian out, there’s a little more working room because of Cirelli’s $4.8 million cap hit. The Lightning would then be able to carry three extra skaters for a full 23-player roster.
For Bogosian, that player is Haydn Fleury. That’s a pretty easy one-for-one replacement and don’t need to worry much else about that. When Bogosian is back, as long as no one else on the blue line is injured, Fleury can be waived to make room for Bogosian. On a side note though, I expect the early season to be a big try-out session for Cal Foote and Philippe Myers. If one of them struggles, and Fleury shows he’s reliable, it could be one of those two that ends up on the trading block to make room for Bogosian instead. Fleury being waived is the most likely scenario, but I can’t rule out that possibility, so keep it in the back of your mind for later.
With Cirelli’s higher salary cap hit, he gives the Lightning room to replace him with two forwards. For training camp, that means that there should be a good competition for the three open forward spots. It’ll also mean that those three players can compete while Cirelli is out of the line-up for that long-term spot, with two of them heading back to Syracuse (if they make it through waivers) when Cirelli returns and the winner of the competition remaining on the roster.
Looking ahead to mid-season the Lightning’s trade prospects aren’t great. As I noted above, with the 12/7/2 expected players, the Lightning have $1.2 million in cap space before the 13th forward. Because of the LTIR of Brent Seabrook, that total won’t grow. What it means though is that the Lightning can trade (or waive) a roster player for a rental. The exact cap hit that the Lightning can take on will depend on the player moved and the 13th forward (which could be the same player).
To illustrate, let’s just take some examples. If the 13th forward was Cole Koepke with a $842,500 cap hit, the Lightning would have $357,500 in cap space. If the Lightning traded or waived Koepke, they could add a player with a $1.2 million cap hit, or up to $2.4 million with salary retention by the other team. If Koepke was the 13th forward, but the Lightning traded Philippe Myers with his $2.55 million cap hit for another defenseman, then that defenseman could have a $2,907,500 cap hit without salary retention or up to $5.815 million cap hit with salary cap retention.
While it’s not exactly money-in, money-out as it was last year for the Lightning, it’s pretty close to it since the team will have between $350,000 and $450,000 in salary cap space beyond whatever player they move to facilitate a trade.
The Three Forward Spots
While this isn’t exactly salary cap related, I did want to take a quick run through the candidates for the three forward spots that will be open to start the season.
- Alex Barre-Boulet - Barre-Boulet has gotten his shot in the NHL before, but hasn’t been able to stick. He hasn’t been able to show that his high end offensive production in the AHL can translate to the NHL level. His skating and speed is not high end and as a small player you usually need that. I expect he’s got a good chance of earning one of the three initial spots, though his actual game performance early in the season will determine if he can stay on the roster after Cirelli’s return. Barre-Boulet requires waivers to go to Syracuse, though last year, he was claimed by Seattle, played one and a half games, and then cleared waivers so there’s a low chance he’d be claimed.
- Gemel Smith - Smith is a veteran. He’s a safe pick. He plays center and wing in a fourth line role. He’s a serviceable forward. He requires waivers, but is unlikely to be claimed. He’s also well suited for sitting in the press box, but the organization may be better served by just getting him down to Syracuse and playing hockey since he missed quite a bit of time with injury last year.
- Cole Koepke - Since Ross Colton graduated to the NHL, Koepke is the player I’ve been looking at to possibly be the next Colton. He also went the NCAA route and is an older prospect as he’s already 24 years old. He plays a pretty similar style to Colton, but only has a year of professional experience under his belt. He is waiver exempt, so he’s also a nice option to start the season and if he doesn’t earn the permanent spot, he’ll be easy to move back to Syracuse.
- Gabriel Fortier - Fortier got a taste of the NHL last season when the Lightning were dealing with a string of injuries up front. He’s a bit of a Swiss army knife type of player that plays with a lot of energy and pace. He didn’t always show that in his cup of coffee, but with a little more experience and confidence under his belt, he could be beneficial. He also has an advantage of being a capable penalty killer, which would help with Cirelli’s absence. He is also waiver exempt.
- Simon Ryfors - Ryfors joined the Lightning last year as a free agent from Sweden. He took some time to adjust to the North American game, but started to turn it on later in the year as he got comfortable and scored 11 goals and 35 points in 72 games for the Crunch. I consider Ryfors more of a dark horse here and we’ll need to see how he does in training camp and how much he’s advanced his game. He is also waiver exempt.
- Gage Goncalves - I’d also consider Goncalves to be a very long shot dark horse, but is closer to the NHL than any other prospect than the ones I’ve already named. He scored 17 goals and 32 points in 70 games as a rookie for the Crunch last year. I think he still needs more development time before getting an NHL shot though. He is a player that could still end up being a tweener similar to Barre-Boulet where he has the skill to make it work in the AHL, but may not have quite enough to make it over the hump in the NHL.
The roster questions will be answered in the next couple of weeks, but BriseBois will still have his work cut out for him to guide the roster throughout the season.