Report: Ross Colton and Tampa Bay Lightning settle on two-year contract before arbitration

Ross the Boss is back, and what it means for the salary cap.

Ross Colton and the Tampa Bay Lightning were unable to come to terms on a contract for the restricted free agent prior to the deadline for players to file for arbitration. Since they had not, Colton filed for arbitration and the hearing was set for August 16th. With the league’s collective bargaining agreement allowing the two sides to continue to negotiate up until the arbitration hearing date, it meant they could keep talking to each other and find a deal prior to heading into a locked room. And it appears that they have come to an agreement on a new two-year contract with a $1.125 million cap hit.

Colton was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 4th round, 118th overall of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft from the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL. Colton went on to play two seasons of NCAA hockey at the University of Vermont before turning pro. Over his first two seasons in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch, he posted 25 goals, 48 assists, and 73 points in 128 games.

He started the 2020-21 season in Syracuse with a goal and three points in three games before being called up by the Lightning following an injury to Mitchell Stephens. Over 30 NHL games, he recorded 9 goals and 12 points. He followed that up with 4 goals and 6 points in 23 playoff games, including the Stanley Cup Winning Goal in Game 5 against the Montreal Canadiens.

I was never concerned about arbitration or that a deal would get done and the two have done it a week prior to their arbitration date. The Lightning didn’t have much room to work with after their previous free agent moves - bringing in Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Corey Perry and trading away Mitchell Stephens. The question I had was more on if the deal would be for one year or two years.

Looking forward more to the Summer of 2022 and 2023, I started to think that a one-year contract made more sense for Colton. Next year, the Lightning will have a little more wiggle room in the salary cap and could have given him a bigger raise for the 2022-23 season than they could give him now because of the salary cap limitations of the 2021-22 season.

With projected roster, the Lightning had $1,134,045 to sign Colton with. The Lightning didn’t quite use all of that space up though. After signing Colton with this roster set-up, it leaves the Lightning with $9,045 in cap space. The CapFriendly roster currently includes Gemel Smith with a $750,000 cap hit as the 13th forward. However, with the Lightning not quite using up all of their available cap space on Colton, it means that Smith can be replaced by Taylor Raddysh or Boris Katchouk at $758,333, leaving the Lightning with $712 in potential cap space.

That $712 in space is unlikely to be used though and will be lost. To maximize the amount of salary cap relief the team would get by placing Brent Seabrook on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), they need to either build a roster that is under that salary cap, including Seabrook, and then place him on LTIR, or push their salary cap as high as they can within roster limits, and then place him on LTIR. The former method is impossible for the Lightning to achieve, so they’ll use the latter option. This means that the $712 in cap space will be lost and unusable for the season. Not that it really matters all that much.