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Tampa Bay Lightning to meet with free agent center John Tavares

It seems like a long shot, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are reportedly meeting with free agent center John Tavares this week.

With all that we’ve talked about the Lightning’s salary cap concerns especially in 2019-20 and beyond, it’s still a bit surprising that Steve Yzerman is taking the opportunity to meet with Tavares and make his pitch. Yzerman has a few things going for him though: Tavares’ childhood friend Steven Stamkos, a great place to live, year round golf, and no state income tax.

On the other hand, it seems like it’s a very tall order to potentially have three forwards making over $8 million, Hedman making almost $8 million, and Vasilevskiy being somewhere north of $6-$7 million in just a couple seasons. Even if the salary cap continues to go up, we’re talking about five players making up almost half of the team’s salary cap commitments before long. And that doesn’t take into account the raises that are to come for Brayden Point and Mikhail Sergachev to go with the contracts they already have for Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn.

Last summer, I took a run through the Lightning’s salary cap to attempt to see what they might be able to do to fit Tavares in. The salary cap has gone up $2.5 million more than expected, but the Lightning also picked up Ryan McDonagh which eats into the salary cap room they have. They’ve also swapped out Vladislav Namestnikov for J.T. Miller, but I imagine Miller would be traded if the Lightning can sign Tavares.

The complexities of trying to project out beyond this year is almost overwhelming for me. There are a ton of factors that are in play and make it a very challenging exercise especially without knowing how much the salary cap is going up and what prospects might be ready to step in over the next year or two. The no trade clauses in Killorn, Palat, and Johnson’s contracts also mean they aren’t going anywhere for a few seasons.

Without a doubt, the Lightning would have to trade some players to create some salary cap room. Maybe it even means losing a player like Point in a trade once he reaches restricted free agent status. On the other hand, there’s been a lot of rumors out there about the possibility of Tavares signing a one-year, very high salary contract. It would entail a lot of risk and would require him buying insurance to protect his future earnings in the event of an injury. To convince him to do so, you’d have to make him think that signing this one-year deal would give him his best chance to win a Stanley Cup right away.

If the one-year, high salary contract is a reality, the Lightning could afford to do a cap hit around $10-$11 million by trading Miller and trading Braydon Coburn without retaining salary. They’d still have a little bit of wiggle room for injuries and to get Paquette, Erne, and a 7th defenseman in the form of Slater Koekkoek or a free agent on the roster.

It’s all still a long shot. My feeling is that the percentage of Tavares actually signing with Tampa to be in the low single digits. It just seems like it’s a hard sell to get him to come here without blowing up the roster and/or risking the team becoming top heavy with aging players. The other side of that is that the team could become very young on the blue line, relying on prospects to fill in the gaps in the near term when the team runs out of salary cap space.

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