One of the hardest things to do in any sport is keeping a championship team together. Contracts expire, players want to renegotiate their contracts, teams will offer everything but the kitchen sink in a trade to acquire a player with back-to-back Stanley Cup experience, and of course, there’s the dreaded salary cap.
The NHL’s free agency window will open on July 28th at 12 pm EST, and while the Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t expected to make any huge splashes, they are also not in a position to do so. According to Spotrac, the Bolts have an estimated $754,878 in cap space. Lightning GM Julien BriseBois will have treacherous waters to navigate, and a trade may be in order.
Stamkos has been a popular name in conversation over the last couple of seasons. Anytime you talk about the potential trading of your Captain and team leader, it’s a touchy subject. Sometimes an unpopular move needs to be made to continue on the path of success. While Stamkos does have a no-movement clause in his contract, meaning he needs to grant the Lightning approval to trade him.
In October, TSN’s Bob McKenzie released a list of BriseBois “untouchables” on the roster. Stamkos’ name did not make that list.
The 31-year-old Stamkos will have an $8.5 million cap hit this season, presumably putting the largest target on his back, purely from a financial standpoint.
The case for Tyler Johnson is the easiest, as his no-trade clause has expired. Johnson’s contract now allows 20 teams to trade with the Bolts as of the end of the season.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun believes that moving Johnson to another organization is the Lightning’s top priority this offseason.
"The Lightning still have to do more cutting. Losing Yanni Gourde and his $5 million salary is not enough in the expansion process. So priority No. 1 right now as far as I’ve been told on this day for Tampa is to try and find a new home for Tyler Johnson."
Johnson has been the primary target for a cap casualty, and with the new ability to find a trade partner, this could be the best-case scenario. You may recall, Johnson was waived twice before the start of this past season; however, he went unclaimed.
Alternatively, if BriseBois and the Lightning are set on moving Johnson and cannot get a trade beneficial to the club, they may opt to buy out the remainder of his contract. But, that comes with a fairly steep price tag, and the yearly breakdown would look like this:
- 2021-22: $1,055,556
- 2022-23: $2,805,556
- 2023-24: $1,805,556
- 2024-25: $1,555,556
- 2025-26: $1,555,556
- 2026-27: $1,555,556
Now that the window for trade is open, it’s challenging to picture a scenario where the buyout happens. 20 teams now have the option to inquire about getting a quality player like Johnson, with championship leadership in the locker room. I’d expect BriseBois, and owner Jeff Vinik will be fielding a lot of calls.