Earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s offseason picked up steam with a pair of moves made with the salary cap in mind. First, the Bolts re-signed defenseman Braydon Coburn, a pending UFA, on a two-year deal worth $1.7 million a year. They followed that up by placing Ryan Callahan on long-term injured reserve. Sadly, Callahan’s career is over due to a degenerative disc disease in his back. With the NHL Draft this weekend, the Lightning turned to adding to their prospect pool while also seeking ways to create space for Brayden Point’s next contract.
Needless to say, the Lightning accomplished something on both fronts. The NHL Draft weekend began on Friday with no trades involving any actual players. On Saturday, the script changed league-wide, as New Jersey acquired P.K. Subban from Nashville in a trade and Carolina picked up Patrick Marleau from Toronto in another swap. Needing some more cap space, the Lightning jumped into the trade market as well, saying goodbye to forward J.T. Miller.
While working his first draft as Lightning general manager, Julien BriseBois swung a deal with the draft’s hosts, the Vancouver Canucks:
TRADE: The Lightning have traded forward J.T. Miller to Vancouver for a conditional first-round pick in 2020, a third-round selection in 2019 and goaltender Marek Mazanec. Should the Canucks not make the playoffs in 2019-20, the first-round selection will move to the 2021 draft.
— Caley Chelios (@CaleyChelios) June 22, 2019
Despite the fact that Miller is a solid, versatile forward who will be missed, this trade helps out the Lightning’s cap situation immensely.
They gained an extra third round pick in this weekend’s draft, and that conditional first round pick really helps sweeten the pot. As for Mazanec, he returned to his native Czech Republic, agreeing to a two-year contract with Mountfield HK of the ELH on April 27. Perhaps the Lightning persuade him to come back to North America this summer?
The biggest benefit for the Lightning in this trade was the cap space gained. Miller has four years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $5.25 million AAV. With his modified no-trade clause (NTC) not kicking in until July 1, the 26-year-old Miller provided the Lightning with great flexibility in terms of being able to make a deal.
Going into the weekend, one of the biggest questions league-wide was the final number of next year’s salary cap.
After month’s of projections of $83 million, more reports in the days leading up to the draft began suggesting a cap of $81.5 million-$82 million. On Saturday evening, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the answer:
It’s official now. $81.5M salary cap. Salary floor is $60.2M
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 22, 2019
According to CapFriendly, the Lightning now possess just over $10.626 million in salary cap space. Point’s new contract is the biggest and most important piece of business facing the Bolts this offseason. Fellow restricted free agents Cedric Paquette, Adam Erne, and Danick Martel are also seeking new deals, but Point’s will take up the most cap space following a 41-goal, 92-point season.
As for the NHL Draft itself, the Lightning started by reuniting a current prospect with his younger brother.
In 2017, the Bolts selected right-handed defenseman Cal Foote, the son of former NHLer Adam Foote, with the 14th overall pick from the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. Nearly two years later, almost to the day, the Lightning returned to the Foote family to make their first round selection, taking Cal’s younger brother, Nolan. Yes, there were a LOT of puns involving feet on social media Friday night, 90-percent of which fell into the category of low-hanging fruit. Nolan Foote is a 6’3″, 195-pound left-handed left winger who brings some scoring touch and some size to a Lightning prospect group lacking in size. On top of that, the kid is tough as nails:
Foote a power forward who played all year with a broken wrist and still almost put up a point per game.
Played a lot in all situations this year for a meh team. Improved as a PKer.
Adds size, which is a bonus.
— Bolt Prospects (@BoltProspects) June 22, 2019
On a Kelowna team that failed to make the playoffs, Foote scored 36 goals and totaled 63 points in 66 games.
Considered by some to be a second round prospect with a chance of sneaking into the first round, the Lightning obviously liked what they saw from the younger Foote in a draft considered deep in forward prospects.
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman went into greater detail on every first round pick, (link is behind a paywall). He broke down the positives and negatives of Foote’s game:
“Foote, the son of longtime NHLer Adam Foote and younger brother of Tampa first-round pick Cal Foote, was successful in the WHL the past three seasons and was one of the leading shot generators this past season. Nolan Foote is a trigger man for a power play, with a heavy shot that can finish plays. He has good vision and overall hockey sense, but the key to his game is his ability and willingness to shoot the puck. He’s a big man who competes well for pucks.”
“Given his shooting skill, he might have taken too many outside chances when he could have driven the net, but he can attack when he wants to. My concern with Foote is whether he can create enough of his own chances at the pro level. His feet are below-average and, while he has puck skills, I never really saw him create space consistently with his skill.”
There’s always room for guys who can put the puck in the net and drive the net. On the other hand, it sounds like his skating is a concern. However, when it comes to prospects with skating issues, it’s often something that can be corrected with a bit of work ethic and coaching. Foote won’t make this roster next season, but there’s potential for him to be a contributor on the second or third line somewhere down the line.
As for the rest of the Lightning’s picks, they went a variety of different directions with their other six picks.
Due to the Ryan McDonagh trade with the Rangers in February 2018, the Lightning didn’t hold a second round pick. However, the Miller trade gave them an extra third rounder, which they used to select Swedish goaltender Hugo Alnefelt from HV-71 of the Swedish Junior league. The 6’3″ netminder helped backstop the Swedes to a gold medal at the IIHF World U18 Championships. He’s considered raw, but the Lightning are in no rush to hurry him over to Tampa.
With their original third round choice, they chose 5’11”, 185-pound RW Maxim Cajkovic from Saint John of the QMJHL. Playing in his first season of major junior after arriving in North America from Slovakia, Cajkovic put up decent, but not great numbers on a terrible team. He led the Sea Dogs with 22 goals and 46 assists. Cajkovic is considered highly-skilled and fast, but had trouble adjusting to being on a rebuilding team. There were a few instances when he was even a healthy scratch. He’ll be an interesting player to watch next season.
With their next two picks, the Lightning selected a pair of defensemen.
In the fourth round, they chose Max Crozier, a 6’1″ right-handed puck mover from Sioux Falls of the USHL. Committed to Providence College, he’s also a bit of a project, but has some mobility you like to see in a modern day NHL defenseman. In the sixth round, they chose Quinn Schmiemann, a 6’2″ lefty from Kamloops of the WHL. There’s a whole lot of steadiness and little flash to his game.
In the seventh round, the Bolts made their last two selections. They took a flyer on 6’4″ Mikhail Shalagin from the Russian Junior league. He scored 48 goals this past season, but it was against lesser competition. It’ll be intriguing to see how he fares against better competition down the line. With their final selection, they ventured back to the USHL well, where they chose 5’10” forward McKade Webster from the Green Bay Gamblers. A Denver University commit, Webster is a small, skilled forward who will be given plenty of time to develop his game and put on muscle.
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