At the conclusion of the 2018-19 season the Lightning were on a historic pace, at one point, an NHL.com poll had them at a 49% chance to win the Stanley Cup. They followed that up with being swept by the 8th seeded Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning General Manager, Julian BriseBois, has a crucial off-season ahead of him.
Players like Blue Jackets winger, Artemi Panarin, and their goalie Sergei Bobrovsky are the big unrestricted free agent prizes, meaning any team can sign them and their original team gets no compensation. Players like winger Mitch Marner, The Toronto Maple Leafs and center Brayden Point, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are in an interesting situation. Both players just finished their rookie contracts. So, they are without a contract, but their team has control over them. Other teams can offer a contract to RFA and if players original team does not match the contract, the team that signed the RFA will have to give a large compensation to the team who originally controlled him. This causes teams to not offer-sheet players too often. But this also could lead to players holding out for longer periods of time, severely impacting their team during the season. The Leafs had a hold out with William Nylander last season and he ended up hurting the team more than he helped.
This off-season presents a lot of questions for the 2019-2020 regular season and can provide a look into the 2020 off-season. BriseBois has to handle three veteran unrestricted free agents. He also has an interesting restricted free agent situation – 40 goal scorer, Brayden Point, is going to demand big time money. BriseBois has to manage the cap this off-season and also has to make sure that next year we have proper room to resign more players for the years to come.
He started off with resigning defensemen Jan Rutta to a Veteran’s Minimum. Rutta was brought over in a mid-season trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. BriseBois also resigned defensemen Brayden Coburn to a 2-year-deal. Coburn has been a staple of the Lightning defensive corps for a long time.
The biggest news regarded longtime veteran leader Ryan Callahan, known as Cally. He has been a huge part of multiple playoff-caliber teams. Cally was acquired in a trade for Lightning legend, and Hall of Famer , Martin St. Louis. He entered Tampa with extremely high expectations. Cally was way better than expected, playing 307 games over 6 years with Tampa. He had 132 points during that stretch. He wasn’t the flashiest player, he didn’t have to be. Cally played a hard-hitter role that provided some great Lightning teams with a guy who will “beat up” opposing teams. His role has diminished due to injuries, but fans will never forget his goal against the Panthers this past season. Cally may have been a better player off the ice, with his foundation helping millions of kids around the world. Callahan has been a beam of light in Tampa. Cally was diagnosed with Degenerative Back Disease, and it was recommended he not play hockey again.
Eventually, Cally was placed on long term injured reserve, causing an interesting cap situation, but they gained some cap space in the process. They traded J.T. Miller to Vancouver for a 1st round pick. This trade is one of the best moves of the off-season. Even though J.T was extremely talented, the Lightning had to trade the contract to make the moves that would benefit the organization going forward. BriseBois traded a big contract for a valuable first round selection. They created around $15 million in cap room through these moves. When free-agency started, BriseBois was planning ahead and locked down goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to an 8-year $9 million extension. Then he traded Ryan Callahan’s contract, plus a 2020 draft pick, to the Ottawa Senators for one of their bad contracts which was better than Callahan’s contract cap-hit. BriseBois also traded RFA winger Adam Erne to the Detroit Redwings for a 4th round pick. This move gave the Lightning compensation for a winger who wasn’t a part of the 2020 plans.
There was still work to be done, and BriseBois felt he had enough cap room to add two depth players, while thinking about Brayden Point’s RFA situation. Brisebois signed Kevin Shattenkirk, who was bought out by the New York Rangers a week before, so Tampa decided to pull the trigger. Shattenkirk had a lot of success with the St. Louis Blues a few years ago. He earned a big payday from the Rangers for that success. Shattenkirk didn’t live up to the expectations in NY, as he wasn’t worth the large contract he got 2 years ago. The Lightning brought in Shattenkirk on a one-year deal, This gives Tampa a talented defenseman, who’s looking to prove people wrong. They also signed Pat Maroon, who was a physical presence on the 2019 Stanley Cup Champions, St. Louis Blues. Maroon is a hard hitting forward who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. He figures to be a fixture on a young 4th line.
Now BriseBois’ biggest task is resigning 23 year-old RFA phenom, Brayden Point. Point has said he wants to stay in Tampa and has declined offers from the Montreal Canadians and the Carolina Hurricanes. There’s a rumor of an 8-year $8 million deal for him. But recently it appears as the two sides aren’t close on a deal. Point is extremely talented and is a fan favorite. Tampa fans are hoping that Point’s hold-out doesn’t last into the regular season, which begins October 3. Multiple players have stated that he needs to be paid, and that he is a very important part of the team.
The Lightning dominated the 2019 regular season and now they seem to have a better team than last year. They have the motivation to rebound after a pitiful 4 game sweep. Fans have had to deal with the constant mockery from the entire NHL community. I predict Tampa will have to fight for their spot in the standings. The Atlantic Division got better this off-season and everyone is gunning for the Lightning’s top spot. The 2018-19 Lightning were the best team since 2000, and the general consensus is they got better. The biggest choke in recent NHL history will hopefully provide the Lightning with motivation to bring the Stanley Cup back to Tampa.
Update: Point signed a 3 year/ $20.25 million dollar extension with the Lightning on 9/24. He also will be out until late October as he is recovering from a Hip procedure.