Monday, December 14, 2015

Some Thoughts on Steven Stamkos and the Lightning Cap Situation

Steven Stamkos is going to Toronto…to play a game.  If you follow hockey you have read that he is playing his first game of the year in his hometown. The national media has taken the opportunity to reopen the discussion about his future. From what I see, most still seem to think he is Toronto bound the second his deal with the Lightning expires.

As you may remember, I declared that I wouldn’t comment on the drama surrounding Stammergeddon II until he re-signed, was traded or signed with a new team and I’m not going to break that oath right now. However, let’s check in on the Lightning’s roster situation and how General Manager Steve Yzerman is going to handle his roster.

Let’s get this out of the way first.  The team that is in the best position to sign Steven Stamkos is the Tampa Bay Lightning.  They can offer the longest contract (8 years) and will have the least amount of impact to their salary cap no matter how much he signs for.  He is already eating up $7.5 million of their cap. Should he sign a deal that pays him $11-12 million that’s only an additional $4.5 million they have to come up with at most. Every other team in the league is going to have to find $12 million in cap space to accommodate the sometimes right winger.

More good news. According to War-On-Ice’s contract page the Lightning have at least $5.2 million coming off of their cap without affecting the current roster.  Mattias Ohlund’s contract ($3.6 million) and Sam Gagner’s ($1.6 million) are both off the books after this season. That’s more than enough to cover Stamkos’ raise and have a little left over.  It’s not enough to cover everything the team needs so it’s a good thing that…

So long Mr. Ohlund and thanks for all of your long term injury relief.

…Gary Bettman is estimating the salary cap will go up about $3 million next season. Now Mr. Yzerman can start chipping away at his Restricted Free Agent Forwards (Alex Killorn, Vlad Namestnikov, JT Brown and Nikita Kucherov). I expect that once the Stamkos situation has been resolved at least two of those guys will sign a multi-year bridge deal to give the team a little more roster stability.

Taking care of just those five contracts will take up most of the extra cap space, leaving the general manager little flexibility in bringing in free agents or making trades to fix any holes that might develop over the next year and a half. Also, should the cap not rise dramatically over the next 2 or 3 seasons they’ll be looking to figure out how to re-sign Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman. All of them will be looking for new deals in 2017-18.

Hedman looks to be in line for the biggest raise as he is a steal right now at $4 million a year. If he continues his climb up the ladder among league defensemen he could be looking at least doubling what he’s making now. Should he not renew his deal in the next year, he’ll be the next Lightning player drawing trade talks throughout the year.

The Lightning could give them some breathing room if they can find a taker for Matt Carle ($5.5 million), but in all likelihood they would have to retain some salary and the return would be mediocre at best. That makes me wonder if Braydon Coburn’s name starts getting thrown around a bit more over the next couple of months.

Hey, even better they could BOTH by gone!

He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and with the number crunch it’s unlikely that the Lightning are bringing him back at what he makes, $4.5 million, or possibly higher.  The 30-year-old has been steady for the Lightning, picking up 5 points and averaging 16:44 on the ice through 30 games. He is the most physical of the defensemen on the roster have accumulated 46 hits on the season and does start a few more of his shifts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone (51.3/48.7%).

As the Lightning limp along what is increasingly lost situation I’m sure Mr. Yzerman’s phone is ringing a bit more. Defensive depth is always at a premium in the rush up the trade deadline.  Everyone wants to strengthen their blue line and an experienced , tough player with Stanley Cup experience might see his value rise a bit above what he contributes to his current team.

Mr. Yzerman is on record stating that he has no big deals in the works. He told the Tampa Bay Times, “Don’t sit around holding your breath waiting for us to make this big, giant move,” also mentioning that teams around the league are wary about taking on long term contracts.

Of course, Coburn doesn’t fall into that category as a team would only have to pay for him for the rest of the season.  Mr. Yzerman also hedged his words a little stating that if a team came to him with, “something (that) makes sense to make us better, we’ll do it”.  Not that a statement like that is out of character for the former Red Wing.  It is the cornerstone of his team building strategy.

He also isn’t one to panic. He won’t make moves for the sake of making moves or hoping that bringing in some new blood will spark a playoff run.  It is the smart move to do.  All evidence points to this season being an aberration enhanced by injuries.  They might have to write this season off in order to stay a long-term competitive team.  It’s not fun right now, but making knee-jack reactions could cause long-term issues in the future.

This season isn’t over by a long stretch and while the Lightning are on the outside looking in currently, a six or seven game point streak puts them right back into the playoff picture.  A turnaround could be sparked by something as simple as being healthy.  The Triplets were back together for just one game and it was a nice 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.  Messing with the roster before this team has a chance to show what they are really made of would be a shame.

There is the possibility that Stamkos does go somewhere else this off-season.  All of a sudden things change.  In addition to all of the money mentioned above, Mr. Yzerman would have an extra $7.5 million in his pockets.  The Lightning become a big player in free agency.  Perhaps Anze Kopitar is still on the market.  Eric Staal would be a solid addition.  Imagine a blue line with Hedman and Brent Seabrook.

So Mr. Yzerman has a pretty busy stretch of work coming up.  Oh and don’t forget there could be an expansion draft in the next year or so.  That’s not something that a GM with an organization full of prospects is happy to think about.

No comments: