It is decision time for the Tampa Bay Lightning this off season. Time to decide who will remain on the team and who will join the free agent market and find a home elsewhere for next season. The number one factor for the Lightning in making their decisions is what they will do with Steven Stamkos. Stamkos is an unrestricted free agent and is looking at a big pay day right now. The last time a contract was publicly discussed was back in January when it was reported that he was offered $8.5 million a year for eight years. Will keeping Stamkos hurt the team or help the team? This is the decision the Lightning have to make.
A good thing about this offseason is that Tampa Bay is finally done with the contract of defenseman Mattias Ohlund. The Lightning have been paying Ohlund $3.6 million a year and he hasn’t played in the last three years due to a knee injury. The Lightning might also be considering a decision on another defenseman in Matt Carle, as there’s the possibility of buying out his contract and spread that out over four years for approximately $1.8 million a year, which would give them some more salary cap space. This could be a move to watch, as Slater Koekkoek played his way into the lineup during the playoffs while Carle was a healthy scratch. The Lightning have defenseman Nikita Nesterov, who is a restricted free agent that has played well and had a cap hit of $742,500 dollars last season. He could see his salary increase next season as a restricted free agent, and it’s unknown whether or not he’ll return next season. Tampa Bay also has to make a decision about Victor Hedman whose contract expires at the end of next season, which would make him an unrestricted free agent. Starting on July 1, Tampa Bay has the option to negotiate with him on an extension, and they should take full advantage of this situation.
The Lightning have seven forwards that have contracts expiring and five of them are restricted free agents. J.T. Brown, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Cedric Paquette are three of them that could probably be resigned for maybe a little over $1 million a year and would be cap-friendly signings. Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov are the other two restricted free agents and are going to ask for serious pay raises. The decision the Lightning will have to make is which one deserves it more, and Kucherov’s numbers and presence speak louder than Killorn’s.
Tampa Bay must also think about the end of next year when Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Brian Boyle come to the end of their contracts. The Lighting will also have to assess the goalie situation in which both Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s contracts expire, with Bishop being an unrestricted free agent and Vasilevskiy being restricted. Will the Lightning decide to stick with Bishop, who is currently making $5.95 million a year, or Vasilevskiy, who has proven himself and is making $925,000 dollars a year right now on an entry-level contract and is eight years younger than Bishop?
Looking at the long-term outlook of this team, we might have seen the last days of Stamkos in a Lightning uniform. This decision would help keep key players such as Kucherov, Paquette, Killorn, and also leave cap space to re-sign Hedman now. A decision like this would also leave cap room for the end of next season to keep players like Boyle, Johnson, Palat, and Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay. With players like these and Johnathan Drouin, losing Stamkos means they gain the ability to keep the rest of this team’s core together.
But regardless of how it all plays out, this summer is one that’s full of decisions for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the choices the team makes this offseason will affect them for many years to come. One thing is for sure, Tampa Bay’s roster will definitely be different when the puck drops next season. Just how different remains to be seen.
*All salary and contract information via generalfanager.com
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