Tampa Bay Lightning: Salary Cap Situation Will Cause Roster Turnover


The Tampa Bay Lightning have one of the most talented young rosters in the NHL; however, due to the teams salary cap situation, there may not be much time for this current group of players to stay together.

You hear it time and time again now that the Tampa Bay Lightning have strung a few successful seasons together; the Lightning organization is now one of the model franchises in the NHL. Like the Detroit Red Wings, the team has continued to draft well and has collected a young core of talented players that make the present and future bright for the team from the sunshine state.

While we expect this team to be relevant for the long haul, there is a time where these young, inexpensive players run the course of their entry level deals or mid-level second contracts and become too expensive for teams to keep. In the salary cap era, it’s almost impossible to keep a group of young talented players together for a long time without letting a few leave here and there.

Lets take a look at the situation by the numbers. The 2015-2016 season will start with the team having $3.5 million left in cap space. That does not count Mattias Ohlund being on LTIR and his salary not counting toward the cap, with a cap hit of $3.6 million, the total adjust cap for next season will be around $7.1 million.

That seems like a decent amount for a team with most of the team under contract and having only one unrestricted free agent in Brenden Morrow, but with restricted free agents Andrej Sustr, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Jonathan Marchassault needing to resigned, that cap number will significantly reduce.

This doesn’t include contracts of AHL veterans such as Syracuse Crunch captain Mike Angelidis and J.P. Cote who provide veteran leadership down on the farm.

With those contracts most likely being renewed, most of that unused cap space will be gobbled up, and there would be none available to make moves in free agency. However, there may be ways the team can gain more cap space. Veteran defenseman Matt Carle has four years remaining on his deal that will pay him $5.5 million per season.

Carle has the largest cap hit on the team’s group of blue liners, and there is a chance that Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman could look to move Carle’s contract out of Tampa Bay. Yes, Carle blocks a lot of shots and provides solid bottom pair minutes on most nights, but if there is any way Yzerman can make the team better and shave some money off the books in the process, you would assume he would do everything in his power to make the happen.

The problem with this is Yzerman would need to find a team willing to take on most of Carle’s salary assuming Tampa Bay is willing to retain half of the 30 year old’s salary and attach a draft pick as well. With Nikita Nesterov showing he can play solid bottom-six minutes and super prospect Slater Koekkoek a year or less away from making the full time jump to the NHL, saving $2.5 million dollars would be a nice outcome. This space could be used for a veteran defenseman aswell, possibly a Marek Zidlicky or a Paul Martin on a cheap one-year deal to play on a contending team looking to make another Cup run.

With talks between the Tampa Bay Lightning and captain Steven Stamkos camp underway shortly, there is no doubt the Lightning are going to do everything in their power to lock up the face of the franchise for the long haul. All indicators point to Stamkos returning to the Bolts after the 2015-16 season, but the question is at what cost?

Last summer, Chicago Blackhawks forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both received eight-year $84 million dollar contracts, which averages out to a cap hit of $10.5 million dollars each. Is Stamkos going to receive an offer in about that range? Yes, and will probably make more.

The thinking is Stamkos will have a cap hit of between $11-12 million dollars, which will kick in after the 2015-16 season. The $4 million dollar increase will take a large chunk out of the teams cap space, and with several big names such as Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Cedric Paquette, and J.T. Brown becoming RFA’s and looking for a nice payday themselves, there is a chance that the team will lose several key pieces from it’s roster.

Looking even further ahead, there will be many questions on what Steve Yzerman will do with certain players knowing he will not be able to keep everyone. Knowing Kucherov is safe and most likely earning a hefty raise, the other two members of the triplet line Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson about to enter the last year of their contracts, and Victor Hedman entering the same situation that his teammate Stamkos is entering and wanting to be paid like one of the top defenseman in the league (and deservedly so) there is the question of whether there will be enough money to go around for everybody.

Do you trade Alex Killorn mid-season knowing you may not have the chance to resign him, or do you keep him for the Stanley Cup run and let him walk out the door as a free agent? Do you resign Cedric Paquette and/or J.T Brown or do you let prospects such as Tannar Richard and Adam Erne take over the role in the teams bottom-six forwards?

So many questions that we have no answers to. It’s amazing to think that so many good young players could be leaving the organization in the next few years and yet there are fantastic prospects just waiting to take their place. Like many teams before them, the Tampa Bay Lightning will soon lose some of the key players from the current roster to better opportunities elsewhere around the league.

The 2015-16 NHL season will be the final season this group will have together, and hopefully with some minor tweaks from last years squad, this will be the group that will bring home the organizations second Stanley Cup.

Next: 2015 NHL Draft: Complete Seven Round Mock Draft

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