Tampa Bay Lightning free agency: Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat arbitration projections


Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, both restricted free agents, have filed for salary arbitration. What can they expect to make?

The time has come for the Tampa Bay Lightning to make use of all that valuable space General Manager Steve Yzerman created under the salary cap. Two thirds of the Bolts’ venerated Triplets line — Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat — have filed for arbitration.

The short and skinny on arbitration is this: when two parties in negotiations can’t come to an agreement — in this case the team and Johnson and Palat respectively — an independent third party examines the situation and decides the outcome.

If Player A thinks he’s worth $3 million and the Team thinks he’s worth $2 million, the player can file for arbitration and both parties are bound by the Arbitrator’s determination. Players may only file for arbitration once in their careers.

There are other caveats in play. The parties can reach an agreement before the arbitration hearing arrives and the team doesn’t have to honor the arbitrator’s decision; if the team walks away from the table, the restricted free agent becomes an unrestricted free agent and may sign with any team he wishes.

So how does this affect the Tampa Bay Lightning? Chances are the arbitrator would rule in favor of both players, but it’s unlikely either of them actually reaches that point. What these two filing for arbitration has done, if nothing else, is set a clock for negotiations, which wasn’t present before. Despite overpaying for aging defenseman Dan Girardi and missing out on both Brian Boyle and Luke Witkowski, Yzerman is a smart GM and will want to avoid having to tell two of his best players why they’re not worth what they want in a court setting.

Johnson and Palat are both on three-year, $10 million contracts worth $3.3 million average annual value. Each of them can expect to make at least a couple million more per year, likely between $5 million and $6 million, if we use Alex Killorn’s inflated $4.45 million AAV as a baseline.

Based on the last couple of seasons, Palat should command slightly more, with 40 and 52 points in the last two years vs. Johnson’s respective 38 and 45.

Take a look at the contract magic Yzerman worked with fellow Triplet Nikita Kucherov, who’s more productive than both Palat and Johnson. Kucherov signed a heavily team-friendly deal last summer, three years averaging $4.7 million. Kucherov can easily expect north of $6 million on his next deal. The reason he’s not making more money is that the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t have all this space under the salary cap with which to work.

Next: Tampa Bay Lightning sign forward Chris Kunitz to a 1-year deal

According to Spotrac, the Tampa Bay Lightning have about $14 million and change to play with this offseason. Once Johnson and Palat are signed, which will happen, there’ll be less than $5 million to play with as Yzerman looks to round out the lineup.