Lightning Continue Offseason Revamp

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With the big new shiny contract handed out to Andrei Vasilevskiy on Monday (eight-years with an AAV of $9.5 million), the Lightning cap situation went from cloudy to muddy.

Fans have been awaiting the Brayden Point contract all summer long, so this comes as a bit of a surprise. Vasy is already signed through next season and wouldn’t have been an RFA until after this season. However, as of early July, he was able to start negotiating for a new contract.

My early assessment is $9.5M is too much for any goalie. But with the market being set by Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky each making $10M+ this doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Although I would have loved to see his cap hit to come in at a flat $8 million, I don’t think crying over $1.5 million is necessary. The NHL salary cap has been steadily climbing. By next season I think the salary increase will absorb the extra handout. Is it a sweetheart contract like Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos? No, not at all. But when you take into consideration Nikita Kucherov and his identical $9.5M cap hit, even Kuch took a bit of a discount, there was lots of money saved elsewhere to make this work.

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A lot of people, Bolts fans included, do not seem overly in love with this contract extension. The general consensus is that no team should shell out that much money for any goalie. A big argument is a separation in talent from the leagues best to the league average and how much difference does it make.

My initial thought process is that over the last two decades, many powerhouse teams have won on the backs of average goaltending. Look no further than the Stanley Cup Champions. Thee Blues won the cup with a rookie making next to the league minimum. Not that Jordan Binnington didn’t have to stand on his head this year, but we’ve seen these kinds of performances over the years. Antti Niemi and Cam Ward come to mind. Even Corey Crawford and Chris Osgood during their prime could fall under this category. None of which were truly elite options in net, but an average goalie good enough to get the job done.

The common denominator among all of these teams is that no goalie was paid like a superstar. If a team like Montreal wins the Cup it will be on the shoulders of Carey Price. However, Tampa Bay is a much deeper and more well-rounded team and they don’t necessarily need an all-world goalie to get it done. As the evidence will show, the playoffs are a crapshoot and sometimes even the best goalie in the world can let in a few unlucky goals that can send their team packing.

Look, I don’t want to take a dump on the Vasy contract. He’s an all-world goalie who’s been nominated for the Vezina in two of his three seasons as a starter, winning it this past season. At 25-years-old, he is six years younger than both Bobrovsky and Price who carry higher cap hits.

The detractors will point out that both Bobrovsky and Price were set to become or already free agents when they signed their deals. Call me crazy, but IF I’m handing out big money to a goalie, I’d much rather spend on years 25-33 than years 30-38. Vasilevskiy will be 33 when his deal expires. There is no reason why he can’t still be a top goalie at that time. I’d be much more worried handing out big money to an aging goalie where years 35+ scream trouble from across the country. That being said I still think the new contract comes in a bit high. However, with the rising cap and the expected departure of Alex Killorn next year, there’s no use in crying over spilled milk.

In the end, the Lightning have fought forever to find stability in net since Nikolai Khabibulin. Ben Bishop was a solid option for a few years. But the price tag on Vasy wasn’t going to stop the team from locking him up. We’ve seen the dog days of goaltending over the last decade and a half. This includes pit stops with Mathieu Garon, John Grahame, Marc Denis, and Mike Smith. It’s not wild to think that Vasilevskiy is already the best goaltender in franchise history at only 25 years old. Even if your not ecstatic with the new deal, Bolts fan should sleep easy knowing they have an all-world goalie locked up for the next 8 years.

The Callahan Era Comes To An End

General manager Julien Brisebois’ offseason overhaul continued with the departure of Ryan Callahan. The full trade will read Mike Condon and a sixth-round pick in 2020 for Callahan and a fifth-round pick in 2020. I think it would have cost Tampa Bay a lot more to move a healthy Callahan, but since his cap hit goes straight to LTIR and given the fact Ottawa has to reach the cap floor, the deal required little value as Tampa forfeits a sixth-round pick. In addition, Tampa acquires a goalie that could see a lot of playing time in Syracuse. Especially since they don’t have a starting goalie in the minors after moving on from Connor Ingram. Ridding themselves of Callahan’s contract was the big move but it’s also important to fill out the goaltending questions in Syracuse for a young team that can do some damage in the AHL this year.

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Callahan gave it his all during his time with the Lightning. A true professional and a heart-and-soul guy who laid it all on the line every single night. He taught a young team the sacrifices needed to go deep and make a run, lessons that will not be forgotten. It’s just a shame his time will end without a Cup.

Thank you Callahan for everything you’ve given us over the last six years.

Moving Forward

Now the attention turns back to Brayden Point. With $11.1 million in cap space remaining, one must think thats enough to get a deal done. There seems to be a hold up between both camps and my guess is that its over term. I believe the Lighting are doing everything possible to sign Point to a bridge deal but, at this point, I don’t think we can expect a short term deal. The AAV on Point’s next contract will really paint the picture for the Lightning’s future. All we can do at this point is to wait some more.

Roster Spot Opening For 2019-2020

Taking a look at the current lineup, there is a hole or two left by the departures of J.T. Miller and Callahan. Let’s assume Adam Erne reaches a deal and takes on Callahan’s spot on the fourth line. In addition, Danick Martel is kept on as the teams 13th forward. That leaves one forward spot open at camp unless *knock on wood* we see any injuries. Thanks to Cap Friendly as always for their easy Armchair GM function, here’s a look at the Lighning roster with a few predictions as it stands.

*This is assuming Tampa Bay and Adam Erne come to terms on a cheap deal, and that Brayden Point signs at a similar deal to Steven Stamkos.

Noted is that empty spot slotted in at left wing. Thats really the only open spot at the moment and it would appear to be a pretty glaring hole in the lineup. There is a massive hole to fill on the first line. If head coach Jon Cooper pairs up Kucherov with Point again, then Stamkos lacks a true option on his wing. I thought J.T. Miller fit that bill very well during his time here, but he’s gone now and of their current options; Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn have never really took off alongside Stamkos.

I’ve also heard that Erne’s position should be up for grabs as well. However, I don’t think thats the case. Its a rare sighting, but Erne has the ability to take over games. The problem is that Adam Erne is Adam Erne. I don’t think there is a Wayne Simmonds or a Boone Jenner level of player here. He is what he is, and for the Lightning thats a cheap contract who can add some scoring depth on your fourth line. He can play heavy minutes, and is capable of making a play or two here and there. It would take a hell of a camp by another Lightning prospect to displace his roster spot right now. Erne has graduated from the AHL and he will be playing in the NHL this year. He has every chance of having a decent season too. He’s yet to be signed with his RFA rights kicking in, but he and the team both avoided arbitration, so the thought is they are close to terms on a deal.

Tune in to next weeks article on my 5 Bold Predictions for the 2019-2020 season, including who will take over for JT Miller’s spot on the Lightning’s top line.

Follow me on Twitter @KyleOHowe for more NHL and Lightning coverage. 

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