This is going to be a difficult summer for many teams thanks to a salary cap which has risen by less than expected early in the year. For a team like the Edmonton Oilers, there’s a chance to land talent from a team in cap trouble.
Taking Advantage of Cap Hell is dedicated to looking at clubs reportedly in cap trouble and figuring out who might shake loose. Today our focus turns to one of the four teams still fighting for the Stanley Cup: the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Previously in this series:
The Depth Chart
Tampa Bay’s roster isn’t quite carved in stone, but it’s pretty close. The questions are mostly related to lower-end guys around the edges, a handful of restricted and unrestricted free agents whose contracts are up.
Next year’s team currently shapes up to look something like the following.
Total Cap Hit: $68.5 million
Total Cap Space Remaining: $2.5 million
None of Tampa Bay’s free agents should be too terribly difficult to sign; Andrej Sustr is probably the most important of the lot but while he’s a fine young player he shouldn’t break the bank at this point in his career. Given the bonus cushion space the team has with Jonathan Drouin’s deal (there’s some risk in using that, of course) the Lightning should be able to sign everyone, even with Ben Bishop’s pricey extension kicking in. It’s tight, but doable.
So why do the Bolts make this list? Because while things are going to be tight now, they get worse in the near future. Steven Stamkos will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016, and is due for a raise from his current $7.5 million cap hit; the Lightning will also have several RFA’s to deal with, including Nikita Kucherov. The year after that, Victor Hedman hits free agency and will be looking at a big bump from $4.0 million; simultaneously Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat will see their deals expire.
The Lightning are a well-run team, and it’s a reasonable guess that they might be looking to shed a bit of salary this summer to ease both the immediate (they shouldn’t go into Drouin’s cap cushion if they can help it) and mid-term cap issues.
Targets for Edmonton
Tampa Bay has a couple of interesting goalies, but no pressing need to make a decision there and the smart money says they won’t. What the Bolts may be willing to do is talk about some of their expensive defencemen; they have young players on the way up and moving out one contract would make everything easier.
We can rule out Hedman and Stralman as players of interest because the Bolts simply have no reason to move them. Hedman is a 24-year-old franchise defenceman getting paid $4.0 million. Stralman, age 28, has been a lovely fit on the top pairing at the bargain price of $4.5 million. Steve Yzerman must look at that duo and pinch himself just to be sure he’s not dreaming. We can also rule out the cheap guys; Nesterov is a 22-year-old offensive defenceman and 6’7” Sustr has taken on increased responsibility in the playoffs, matching both Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle in terms of ice time.
The three players who might make sense in a deal are 30-year-olds Carle, Coburn and Jason Garrison. All are pricey, not old but getting there, and at least one will be bumped down to the third pairing next season.
Carle has three years left at a $5.5 million cap hit, and has had some issues in the postseason. He has played tough minutes in the playoffs, both in terms of competition and zone starts. He’s largely played tough minutes over the last few years, and with the exception of a difficult 2013-14 has done pretty well in them. He plays in all situations, but his power play role has been steadily reduced in favour of Hedman, Stralman and Garrison; his offence has fallen with it.
Coburn has a single year left on his deal, at a $4.5 million cap hit. He was a pricey trade deadline upgrade, costing the Lightning first and third round picks as well as a tough 24-year-old defenceman with a magnificent beard (Radko Gudas). He’s had some playoff struggles (again in tough minutes), but he’s a big, tough shutdown defenceman. Tampa Bay would be trading him at a significant asset loss, and he might look a lot better with a full training camp with the team.
Garrison has three years left on his deal at $4.6 million, though his actual salary is much lower (averaging just over $3.5 million over the duration of the contract) and that will have value to a Tampa Bay team that still needs to be fiscally responsible. Yzerman somehow conned Vancouver into trading Garrison and a seventh-round pick in exchange for just a second round selection. Garrison did a fine job in second-pairing work and has been Tampa Bay’s No. 3 over their current playoff run; of this trio of defenceman my guess is that he’s the least likely to be dealt over the summer, though a trade is still conceivable.
It’s not a certainty, but it’s a reasonable guess that the Lightning may shop a defenceman over the summer, with Carle likely the name at the top of their list. If they do, Edmonton would be well-advised to make a serious play for whichever defender shakes loose, as all of Carle, Coburn and Garrison are competent top-four defenceman who would bolster the Oilers’ blue line significantly.
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