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Bolts Ink Johnson To New Deal, Kunitz Meets Media

Photo Courtesy Wayne Masut | Senior Staff Photographer

One familiar face signed a new deal. Meanwhile, a new face met the local media for the first time.

All in all, it was a busy, yet productive week for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as center Tyler Johnson, a restricted free agent, avoided arbitration by signing a seven-year deal with the Bolts on Monday. The contract comes with an average annual value of $5 million.

With Johnson in the fold for the long-term, the Lightning now hold about $8.5 million in cap space per Winger Ondrej Palat remains the final free agent on the team without a contract. A restricted free agent, Palat has an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 25. It would not be a surprise if Palat receives a similar contract some time before that arbitration date.

Following the trade of Jonathan Drouin, it became apparent that Johnson would be brought back into the fold. While the term is a bit longer than some would expect, it follows general manager Steve Yzerman’s pattern of hanging out longer term with shorter salary cap hits. Johnson’s deal is a good value as a second line center. However, the question remains whether or not the 26-year-old can stay healthy. Over the last two seasons, he has combined for 33 goals and 83 points while missing 29 games over that time. It’s a far cry from his breakout 2014-15 campaign, when he posted 29 goals and 73 points while helping the Lightning reach the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

Despite the recent injuries and inconsistency, Johnson is known for clutch playoff performances. In 47 career playoff games, he’s notched 21 goals and 21 assists, including 13 goals in the 2015 playoffs. Had Johnson stayed healthy over the last two years and produced at the same level as 2014-15, we’d probably be talking about a deal worth $6 million AAV. As it stands now, the Lightning appear to be getting good value with Johnson as long as he stays healthy.

Chris Kunitz meets the Tampa media for the first time

On the first day of free agency, the Lightning made news when they signed former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz to a one-year deal worth $2 million. On Wednesday, the 37-year-old expressed excitement at joining the Lightning after eight-and-a-half seasons in Pittsburgh.

“We’re obviously really excited, we wanna get down here, start becoming a part of the Lightning family,” Kunitz said. “Trying to find a house in order for the kids to go to school, meet the guys when they come in. It’s something we’re really looking forward to, turning another page in our career. The Lightning obviously have an unbelievable chance to win a Stanley Cup and that’s basically why we came here.”

Kunitz also added that he sees a lot of similarities between his old Penguins teams and the Lightning.

“For sure. It starts with the captain of the team, who’s a dominant player and when healthy, can drive an organization,” said Kunitz. “On the back end, you have elite guys like Hedman. Girardi coming in with playoff experience. They obviously have a talented group of forwards who have speed and skill, some youth to it. It’s a lot of similarities.”

Although Kunitz’s totals of nine goals and 29 points last season were his lowest since joining Pittsburgh, Yzerman lauded Kunitz’s ability to be a difficult guy to play against. When asked what that meant, it’s obvious that it’s something Kunitz takes pride in.

“I try and play a straightforward game, straight lines, try to be physical on the forecheck, go to the front of the net,” said Kunitz. “Try to go through people rather than around them. I’m not a guy that’s gonna skate through the neutral zone and make a bunch of fancy plays. But I’m gonna try and be a guy that brings a physical aspect to the game, someone tough to play against.”

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