Tampa Bay is in a bit of a salary cap bind. With Steven Stamkos coming up on free agency and a number of other players (including Nikita Kucherov) entering restricted free agency the club has just $1.63 million in available cap space. We’ll probably see some sort of cap increase next year, but even so this is going to be tight.
So it’s not a surprise to hear rumours that the Lightning are trying to ship out salary. Nor is it surprising that those rumours tend to involve the team’s defence.
The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch doesn’t have a perfect track record when it comes to sharing rumours, but what he has to say about the situation in Tampa Bay makes sense:
Stamkos’ comparables are likely the eight-year, $10.5-million per season deals that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that kicked in this season with the Chicago Blackhawks. The talk is the Bolts have yet to table an offer to Stamkos but both sides are keeping any discussions quiet publicly. It’s believed Yzerman is attempting to clear money off the books by shopping defenceman Matt Carle around the league. The 31-year-old, who is making $5.5 million per season, has a contract that runs through 2017-18.
The obvious reason this might be of interest to the Oilers is that Carle is one of the few veteran defencemen out there believed to be available in trade, and Edmonton’s blue line is in need of some help. Is there a fit here?
Tampa Bay has five defencemen with a cap hit of $4.0 million or more. Of that group, Victor Hedman is of course untouchable (worth noting: a year from now, he’ll be in the same situation as Stamkos and in need of a new contract) while Anton Stralman is playing top-pairing minutes for just $4.5 million per season and is very unlikely to be available. We can further nix Braydon Coburn, who is a pending free agent and will already do his share to clear cap space when his deal runs out this summer.
That leaves two names: Matt Carle and Jason Garrison, currently playing together on Tampa Bay’s second pairing. They have some things in common. Both are right around 31 years old and under contract for this season and two more after that. They play similar minutes at evens, and participate on both special teams. There are some obvious differences, too: Carle has a higher cap hit ($5.5 vs. $4.5 million), a higher actual salary (Garrison’s long-term deal was front-loaded) and is significantly smaller (6’, 197 pounds vs. 6’2”, 223 pounds) than Garrison.
At even-strength, both guys are trusted against tougher opposition and both start a lot of shifts in the defensive zone. Both come in just a touch below average in terms of on-ice shot and scoring chance metrics, which isn’t that big of a deal given that a) the team average in Tampa Bay is awfully good and b) they’re generally seeing reasonably tough minutes.
Carle has been up-and-down historically on the power play, and seems to have fallen out of favour in that regard. Garrison, meanwhile, has had four pretty reasonable years in a row on the man advantage and offers a heavy point shot. On the penalty kill, neither guy was especially good last year; Carle had the worst on-ice numbers of any Lightning defenceman while Garrison was a second unit guy.
To me, Carle is sliding towards third-pairing duty – I wouldn’t be surprised if on merit he was a No. 5 by year-end – and he’s paid way too much for that. Even if it was a one-for-one deal for Andrew Ference I don’t think I’d take that contract on in Peter Chiarelli’s shoes. Garrison? He’s more interesting, particularly because he often plays on the right side of the ice. Edmonton could certainly use his shot on the power play, and his veteran presence might be valuable in the top-four.
Having said that, the problem here may be that even a Garrison trade is simply aiming too low. If the Oilers are going to take on significant salary, they should probably be looking at a really significant defenceman, even if it means parting with some hard-to-lose assets in the deal.