Forwards Danick Martel and Cedric Paquette, along with defensemen Braydon Coburn and Jan Rutta were all Lightning free agents that were brought back.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been making really good moves thus far in the off-season. Though they have yet to give current Restricted Free Agent, Brayden Point, a contract, they have addressed all other needs. Here’s what they have done.
Lightning Re-Signing All But One Free Agent
Martel was primarily used as an emergency depth winger, playing only 9 games last season. He recorded just 2 assists but did flash, at times. He plays a hard-nosed, high-energy game and is slated to play on the fourth or third line next season, depending on who he connects best with, chemistry-wise.
Cedric Paquette has been with the Lightning since the 2013-14 National Hockey League season. He has always been the epitome of what an NHL fourth line center should be. Getting him back on a two-year, $1.65M per year deal is more than worth it.
Coburn has been one of the most reliable bottom-two defenders in the NHL. Taking just $1.7M per season on a two-year deal is a great contract. He is a possessional dynamo, only getting below a 50% corsi-for% four times in the 11-year period that Corsi-for was tracked.
Finally, Jan Rutta was acquired midway through last season and reported to 14 games as a Bolt. There, he recorded a career-best 53.8 Corsi-for%. He also went on to record a career-high Fenwick-for% of 51.5. Getting a 1 year, $1.3M extension is worth the cost. He will likely rotate into the bottom-two defense pair next season.
The Lightning Letting Go Of Unwanted Players
The title might be harsh, but the Lightning actually wind up using the tactic of “addition by subtraction”. Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, Ryan Callahan, Adam Erne and JT Miller were all moved one way or another.
Girardi was a decent depth defenseman, but last season was not his best. He rotated in and out as a healthy scratch and bottom-two defensive pair with Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev, Braydon Coburn and Jan Rutta. Him, Coburn and Rutta were the ones who often sat out until Rutta took charge and filled out the bottom-two when Stralman got injured. Plus, Cernak wound up cementing himself as a top-four defenseman. Sergachev was very rarely rotated out, but he still did, at times, which is why he was on that list. Coburn ended up performing better statistically and beat Girardi in the eye-test. His release and Coburn’s new contract is a good all-around decision by Julien BriseBois and company.
Stralman was one of the most underrated and undervalued players on the Lightning blue-line. I loved Stralman as much as any other Lightning fan did. However, he was oft-injured last season, slotting into only 47 games. He recorded just 17 points, his lowest total since the lock-out shortened 2012-13 season. He also recorded a career-worst 47.4 Corsi-for%, which also marked just the second time he ever recorded lower than 50% in that metric. Besides, in his absence rose Erik Cernak. Cernak took advantage of Stralman’s absence and took over as a solid top-four option next to Ryan McDonagh. With the top-four of Sergachev, McDonagh, Cernak and Victor Hedman locked up, why re-sign Stralman to play bottom-two? He wound up getting overpaid by the Florida Panthers, and no Lightning fan would want to burden with a 3-year, $5.5M contract to an injury-riddled defenseman who they ultimately don’t need.
Ryan Callahan is a fan-favorite without a shadow of a doubt. He has done so much for the community in Tampa Bay and was a leader on and off the ice for the Lightning. But there’s no denying that he wasn’t capable of playing at the NHL level anymore. It didn’t help that his contract had one year left at $5.8M.
He, unfortunately, was dealing with a potentially career-ending back ailment, which led the Lightning to place Callahan on Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR). LTIR offers the team overage, which basically means a team can spend however much money the contract entails for the player ($5.8M for Callahan) over the total cap space. But the contract would not go into LTIR until the season began, meaning they could not afford to spend that $5.8M in overage until the season starts back up. So instead, they managed to trade Callahan’s contract to the Ottawa Senators, allowing them to lift Callahan’s contract off their shoulders immediately. Yet another good deal, especially in regards to working more extensively on a Point contract.
Adam Erne was a restricted free agent who also went most of the summer with no new contract from Tampa. Former Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman called over to current general manager Julien BriseBois on his availability. Erne, who played 65 games last season while averaging just over 10:30 of time on ice, was apparently up for trades if inquired. With Martel and Paquette returning, as well as Alex Killorn, Mathieu Joseph, Anthony Cirelli and a number of American Hockey League players from the Syracuse Crunch potentially getting called-up, Erne is expendable. They managed to reel in a fourth-round pick in a stacked 2020 NHL entry draft. That’s a lot of value for a fourth-line grinder who failed to find a true role on the team.
Lastly, JT Miller. Miller was one of my favorites on the Lightning last season. He was excellent on the transition and could be effective anywhere up and down the line-up. Miller could handle first-line minutes with Stamkos. He looked great on the second line with Kucherov and Point. He battled hard on the third line with Cirelli. It sucked seeing Miller go.
But look at the return! The Canucks gave up a conditional 2020 first-round pick (if the Canucks miss the playoffs, it becomes a 2021 first-rounder), a 2019 third-round pick (which turned into Hugo Alnefelt who has impressed me greatly on film) and goaltender Marek Mazanec, who later left the NHL to play overseas. The conditional first-round pick is more than enough value by itself, as both 2020 and 2021 are really strong draft classes. Adding the third-round selection of Alnefelt, who I have fallen in love with, is just the cherry on top. I’ll miss Miller for sure, but the return was more than worth it. Not to mention, we relieve ourselves of Miller’s $5.25M contract that lasts another 4 years.
The Lightning went out of their way to acquire cheap, high-upside players. Basically, a bunch of low-risk, high-reward players. That includes goaltenders Scott Wedgewood, Mike Condon (not a cheap, high-upside signing) and Curtis McElhinney, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and forward Patrick Maroon.
Scott Wedgewood and Mike Condon
Wedgewood is currently listed on the Syracuse Crunch roster on Capfriendly.com. He is currently signed to a one-year, $700k contract. His career NHL stats split between the New Jersey Devils (2015-16) and Arizona Coyotes (2017-18) holds a 7-10-5 record. He posted a career .905 save percentage and 3.05 goals-against average. Last season, in the AHL, he posted a 28-16-1 record with a .908 SV% and 2.68 GAA. He has the potential to be an emergency third-stringer. He was brought in due to the losses of Connor Ingram and Eddie Pasquale. Projects as the AHL starter.
Mike Condon is also listed on the Syracuse Crunch roster on Capfriendly. Making $2.4M, it’s unlikely he sticks around. He could reel in a late-round pick in 2020 if the Lightning feel inclined to make that move.
McElhinney backed up Petr Mrazek in Carolina last season. He also backed up Frederik Andersen the year prior in Toronto. In both places, he provided reliable netminding and came through when he was called on.
With Toronto, he won the playoff-clinching game in 2018 in the absence of Andersen. In Carolina, he provided consistent goaltending when Mrazek struggled. Over those two seasons, he won 73.3% and 60.6% of his starts, respectively. He notched a .934 and .912 SV% respectively, as well. He also posted 2.14 and 2.58 GAA, respectively.
All his stats are better than that of Louis Domingue, the back-up to Andrei Vasilevskiy last season. With McElhinney in, Domingue is likely going to be shipped off to another team. With his performance and personal winning streak in Tampa behind Vasilevskiy, he could be deemed worthy enough for a fringe-starter role. That could bring in some decent draft capital into Tampa if the right team comes knocking.
Kevin Shattenkirk was bought out by the New York Rangers in early August. His previous cap-hit was $6.65M and it had another three seasons left to it. What’s strange is Shattenkirk, although greatly overpaid, was still an effective blue-liner. The buy-out diminished a lot of the value he has and the Lightning made the great decision to take advantage.
The loss of Stralman and Girardi on the right side left just Jan Rutta, Erik Cernak and new additions Luke Witkowski and Luke Schenn. Only Cernak is worthy of top-two minutes, but he has perfect chemistry with left-defenseman Ryan McDonagh and they will more than likely stick together on that second pair. That leaves Victor Hedman’s partner on the right-side wide open.
Shattenkirk coming in gives the Lightning a player who was undervalued by his former team that can handle top pairing minutes. Do I believe Shattenkirk is a top-two defenseman? No, but he’s better than all other options and Hedman is good enough to pick up Shattenkirk if he needs that help. Besides, he is signed to a one-year, $1.75M contract, which is a bargain. Even if he doesn’t pan out as the top-pair with Hedman, they have a guy in Sergachev who can switch from left to right and fill-in when necessary. Again, Cernak could always move up despite his connection with McDonagh. Shattenkirk gives the Lightning a surplus of options to work with when, before his arrival, they didn’t have as many.
Finally, my favorite addition, Patrick Maroon. Maroon is a Stanley Cup champion, after battling all playoffs long with the Blues. I raved about Maroon being a perfect fit for the Lightning all off-season but always decided that it would be too much for the Lightning to afford. Moving Miller and Callahan opened the doors, ever-so-slightly, but enough. Despite that, I still believed that Maroon would be too expensive.
But then Tampa did their thing, just like with Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk being bought out greatly diminished his value and the Lightning bought low. Maroon being un-signed all through the off-season into mid-August? There’s your leverage. The Lighting winning an NHL-record 62 games last season and only missing one piece of the puzzle come playoff time, with Maroon’s playoff success and experience, as well as play-style, being that missing piece? There’s your sales pitch. The Lightning sold Maroon, bought low and shocked me and the rest of the Lightning fanbase.
On top of all that, they still have almost $8.5M in free space to sign Point, with the option to trade Louis Domingue and Mike Condon to relieve $1.4M. In all, the Lightning lost JT Miller, Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan and Adam Erne, then turned those losses into Patrick Maroon, Curtis McElhinney, Kevin Shattenkirk, Cedric Paquette, Jan Rutta, Braydon Coburn, Vancouver’s first-round pick in 2020/2021, Hugo Alnefelt and enough money to re-sign Brayden Point. That’s absolutely absurd. Masterful work by BriseBois, despite the fact that I didn’t like his early moves. Absolutely a work of art.
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All stats via hockey-reference and hockeydb
All salary information via capfriendly