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What the Tampa Bay Lightning might pay for Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat and why

Since sharing some of my thoughts on the amount of cap room I believe the Tampa Bay Lightning have to work with for 2017-18, I have had a lot of discussions with people about the Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat contracts. In most of my doodles with the salary cap, I’ve penciled them in for either $5.5 million per season or $6 million per season. A lot of responses I’ve gotten have been “No way they get that.”

I respectfully disagree.

Instead of being forced to answer those responses multiple times in a series of 140 character tweets, I figured it was best for me to write it out in an article. I want to go through my reasoning about why I think that will be the cap hit for both Johnson and Palat. There’s likely to be some variance between the two, but there is enough similarity and little difference in value in parts of their games that suggest to me they could end up in the same spot salary wise.

My general rule of thumb for unrestricted free agent forwards is $1 million per 10 points of production expected from them. From there, you can adjust a little bit for position scarcity for centers as well as the players’ ability to play on the penalty kill and the power play. Goal scorers tend to get a little more than playmakers. The rule also starts to skew when you get to the upper and lower end of the spectrum. Players that score over a point per game tend to get more per 10 points while players that score less than 20 points tend to get a little less per 10 points unless they have intangibles to offer.

Obviously there are always exceptions, and restricted free agents that are far from unrestricted free agency are a different animal. Palat and Johnson though are only a year from unrestricted free agency just as Alex Killorn was last season. That generally means they’ll be treated more like unrestricted free agents than 22-year-olds coming off of entry level contracts.

To test my rule, let’s compare to some contracts given out during the summer of 2016. All salary information comes from the fine folks at CapFriendly.com.

RW Brad Marchand – Boston Bruins – $6,125,000 cap hit

Signed September 26th, 2016. Three seasons prior to signing contract had point totals of 53, 42, and 61. Scored 37 goals in third season of the set. Five 20 goal seasons. Follows decently close to the rule of $1 million per 10 points plus a little extra.

LW Mike Hoffman – Ottawa Senators – $5,187,000 cap hit

Signed July 27th, 2016. Three seasons prior had point totals of 6, 48, and 59. Two 25 goal seasons. A bit of a late bloomer, Hoffman spent four full seasons in the AHL before breaking out for the Senators. They got good value for him based on his limited track record by our rule of thumb.

LW Chris Kreider – New York Rangers – $4,625,000 cap hit

Signed July 22, 2016. Three seasons prior had point totals of 37, 46, and 43. Kreider hits right on the money of the $1 million per 10 points rule.

LW Alex Killorn – Tampa Bay Lightning – $4,450,000 cap hit

Signed July 17, 2016. Three seasons prior had point totals of 41, 38, and 40. Killorn was able to get some bonus money over the $1 million per 10 points rule. That could be attributed to his play on the penalty kill or could be viewed as a small overspend.

C Jamie Benn – Dallas Stars – $9,500,000 cap hit

Signed July 15, 2016. Three seasons prior had point totals of 89, 87, and 79. Three straight seasons of 34 goals or more including a 41 goal season. Benn had shown he was capable of scoring in the high 80s and was a goal scorer. In addition, he’s the Captain of the Stars which likely gave him a bump as well.

C Luke Glendening – Detroit Red Wings – $1,800,000 cap hit

Signed July 14. 2016. Three seasons prior had point totals of 7, 18, and 21. We’re still pretty on point for the $1 million per 10 points rule here. Glendening also picks up a little bit for being a center and a penalty killer.

LW Andrew Ladd – New York Islanders – $5,500,000 cap hit

Signed July 1, 2016. Three seasons prior had point totals of 54, 62, 34. Ladd missed time in the last season due to injuries. At the scoring pace he had, he would have scored 47 points over an 82 game schedule. Ladd also had a lot of prior history of scoring around 50 points in four seasons previous to the three seasons cited above. Again, Ladd holds to the $1 million per 10 points, despite having been an older unrestricted free agent signing at 30 years old.

RW Kyle Okposo – Buffalo Sabres – $6,000,000 cap hit

Signed July 1, 2016. Three seasons prior had point totals of 69, 51, and 64. Being more of a play maker than a scorer dropped Okposo’s cap hit a little bit from our rule. He has only broken the 25 goal mark once in his career and the 20 goal mark three times.

C Frans Nielsen – Detroit Red Wings – $5,250,000 cap hit

Signed July 1, 2016. Three seasons prior had point totals of 58, 43, 52. Like Ladd, Nielsen was an older free agent signing at 32 years old. He also has a longer history to draw from. However, with his recent performances prior to the deal being signed, he has fit in with the $1 million per 10 points rule despite a dip to 43 points in the middle season.

How all this applies to Johnson and Palat

Both Johnson and Palat had very strong rookie campaigns in 2013-14 that landed them respectable restricted free agent deals. 2014-15 saw them break out as two-thirds of the Triplets. Johnson scored 29 goals and had 72 points while Palat put up 16 goals and had 63 points.

Injuries derailed both players in 2015-16, and Johnson had to deal with more injuries in 2016-17 that wiped out most of the last quarter of the season for him. Johnson’s last three seasons point totals were 72, 38, and 45. For Palat it was 63, 40, and 52. Both bounced back a bit in 2016-17 closer to how they had performed in their rookie seasons when Johnson scored 50 points and Palat scored 59.

Their injuries put a little bit of a damper on trying to project their contracts. You have to ask, are they the players of the Triplet years or are they the players of the past two seasons? Or are they simply somewhere in between? I think the in-between is where you’ll find the answer.

For Johnson, he’ll be able to point out that he was on his way to a 20 goal and 50 point season if he had not been injured. He can also point to his playoff production. Even if you want to discount the 2014-15 postseason for him because of Nikita Kucherov, he can still point to 2015-16 when he scored 17 points in 17 games. In addition, he is a center that plays on the power play and the penalty kill which gives him a boost in value.

For Palat, he comes out looking better in the counting stats since his battles with injuries weren’t quite as costly to him. In fact, Palat probably has the easier argument for being worth more than $5 million due to having three seasons of 50 points in his career. His playoff numbers also don’t quite match up to Johnson’s performances. Like Johnson though, he does play on the power play and the penalty kill. Palat has also regularly worn an A as an Alternate Captain the past two seasons and obviously has a position of leadership within the locker room.

Even if you average their three seasons, both players come out at 51 points per season. They may not get back to their Triplet highs, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to use it in their favor. With their performances thus far and their expected performances moving forward, 50 points or more per season is reasonable to expect of them and sets the floor for their contracts at $5 million.

When you start to add in for both players their intangibles on the power play and penalty kill, and Johnson’s playoff performances and being a center, it’s easy to see the number creeping up to $5.5 million for both of them. $6 million would be the absolute ceiling for what they could reasonably ask for, in my opinion.

My prediction is that both will sign for between $5.3 and $5.7 million to contracts that are 5 or 6 years in length.

Both players are attempting to secure their future financial stability in these contracts that will take up their prime playing years. I know that it’s the wishes and dreams of a lot of fans that both will sign for under $5 million. And who knows, maybe Steve Yzerman really is a Jedi and gets them to agree to an under market contract. It’s possible. But it seems unlikely to me.

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