What We Learned: Lightning's cap situation is remarkable

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Ondrej Palat re-signed with the Lightning on Friday, effectively ending the work Steve Yzerman plans to do this summer. Time to head to the cabin.

Palat is now locked into a five-year deal that will carry an AAV of $5.3 million, so when Yzerman gets back — and, perhaps, does a little last-minute roster work –he’s going to find that he’s set himself and his team up for a lot of success over the next two years at least.

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The Lightning pretty much don’t need to add anyone. Their roster now is what their roster will look like in early October, and while they have a little bit of cap space left, there’s just not much to use it on. Maybe add one more veteran forward on a cheap deal if they really need to, or a good match comes along, but otherwise they’re all all good.

Now sure, the Lightning missed the playoffs last season, albeit by a single point, and really haven’t added anybody apart from Chris Kunitz on a one-year bargain deal and Dan Girardi on a two-year questionable one. But that’s due in part to guys like Steven Stamkos missing 65 games, Tyler Johnson missing 16, and a few guys just having down years. Plus Ben Bishop was sub-average in his 32 games before they traded him.

So the odds that this team bounces back and makes the playoffs — probably in a walk — seem pretty good. It’s probably not a big reveal to say “The Lightning are good” but what really stands out when you look at this roster is that there are maybe five contracts out of 23 where you say, “Ah that’s too much money.” And most of those are offset anyway, by five or six for which there’s a very clear, high-level value if things go as planned.

Obviously the big, terrible contract for which Yzerman is responsible here is the Ryan Callahan deal (and to a lesser extent the aforementioned Girardi misstep, which he just made). Callahan’s is another one where, the day it was signed, any smart observer thought “They’re probably going to regret this immediately,” even putting aside the fact that a $5.8 million player with Callahan’s game aging into his mid-30s was going to be a guaranteed diminishing return.

Same goes for Braydon Coburn making $3.7 million(!) to be a bottom-pairing defenseman, but he’s at least a serviceable bottom-pairing defenseman for that money, I guess.

Plus Alex Killorn makes a little too much ($4.45 million through 2023) for what he brings to the table — not quite 20 goals, not quite 40 points, etc. — but it’s not the most offensive contract in the league.

In retrospect that $8.5 million for Stamkos is probably too much since he can’t stay healthy. Maybe they’d have been better off letting Toronto spend more than that instead, but it was certainly a Carey Price-type situation where Yzerman didn’t really have a choice. And besides, Stamkos took what was certainly considered less than market value at the time, so fair play all around, it just doesn’t seem to be working out right now for reasons beyond anyone’s control (even if some warning signs were there; he’s only played 213 games out of a possible 368 the past four seasons, and the whole “blood clots” thing is very scary).

On the other hand, if Stamkos plays something like 75 games next season and comes in around the 0.9 points per game he’s averaged in the last four seasons, that worrisome contract is immediately a lot less worrisome.

So that’s almost $26 million in potentially misallocated cap money (plus the $1.833 million they’re paying for the Matt Carle buyout over each of the next three years) but you have to look at how much it’s offset by reasonable or even bargain-basement deals for high-level players who litter that roster.

Yes, they’re paying a little less than $27 million for those five guys, but they’re also paying less than $31 million for the following six players for the next two seasons: Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. That’s incredible, truly.

Hedman’s is by far the biggest ticket, but if you’re paying less than $8 million for a Norris-caliber defenseman, you’re fine. Anton Stralman is likewise a clear No. 1 defender, and he’s only booked for $4.5 million this coming season and the one after it, at which point he’ll be 32. That gives you a lot of foundational support for the rest of your blue line. Pair either one of those guys with just about anyone and they’re going to get results, then you only have to win a bottom-pair battle. Not a big deal at all.

The Triplets, no longer conjoined, making a shave over $15 million combined. And while Johnson’s production and health — and certainly the term on the deal — should be a little worrisome at $5 million AAV, he doesn’t have to turn into an MVP candidate again to make that deal “worth it.” If he ends up somewhere around 60 points that’s a perfectly reasonable cap hit for a second-line forward. And certainly he has it in him to do more than that if things go well.

Kucherov and Palat’s deals speak for themselves as incredible bargains: The former makes less than $5 million to be a borderline MVP candidate in any recent season in which Connor McDavid doesn’t exist, and the latter basically guarantees you first-line winger production at a second-line price ($5.3 million).

Vasilevskiy making just $3.5 million for each of the next three seasons, given his ceiling, could be a huge bargain as well.

Yzerman of course deserves a lot of credit for this, because he has mercilessly used every bit of leverage he has to cajole his various RFAs into taking what have mostly been short-money, middling-term deals.

Obviously the bill comes due at some point. Stralman and Kucherov are the two biggest bargains in this group and both have contracts that expire two summers from now. Maybe by then you figure out a way to fire Callahan into the sun (or LTIR him permanently), and maybe by then Mikhail Sergachev emerges as a reasonable and similarly affordable replacement for Stralman, who will by that point be 32. At that point the cap concerns perhaps sort themselves, since Coburn and Girardi come off the books at that point.

But while the check will drop at some point, that’s also two seasons from now, and just about every plus-plus performer on this team is 27 or younger, with the exception of Stralman. They’re in great shape for a couple deep playoff runs before things get tough again.

If they get tough. Which they might not. That’s pretty amazing.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Honestly if they keep Patrick Eaves with Ryan Getzlaf all next year I bet he’s gonna score like 35 without a problem.

Arizona Coyotes: “Badly.” Thanks.

Boston Bruins: You’re not gonna believe this but Jeremy Jacobs is a cartoonishly evil plutocrat ghoul who’s a sub-blocking machine away from being a real-life Mr. Burns.

Buffalo Sabres: Any attempts to say someone who is not Jack Eichel should be the captain of the Sabres seem like a huge waste of time.

Calgary Flames: Hey, remember Curtis Lazar? The Flames seem to. Barely.

Carolina Hurricanes: If we could stop saying everything on earth is “Fake News” that would be insanely cool.

Chicago: Yeah a team with a bad defense and very little cap space should be interested in a good defenseman who won’t cost a lot.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs and Nikita Zadorov have agreed that the defender’s next contract should be two years, but the sticking point is money.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Murray is, at this point, basically a No. 4/5 defenseman. Keep him or don’t keep him. Probably won’t matter much.

Dallas Stars: Now this? This is a stretch.

Detroit Red Wings: One thing that is smart to do is quibble with a really good 26-year-old forward over a year of term and $1 million AAV when you’re basically paying Justin Abdelkader like a franchise player. Wise.

Edmonton Oilers: Turns out that Lucic contract isn’t that good. Who could have seen that coming?

Florida Panthers: Ah man I like Mike Matheson more than most, I think, but if he’s a key cog on that blue line I’d be a little worried.

Los Angeles Kings: An Andrei Loktionov PTO is the big news in LA right now. It’s not even August oh noooo.

Minnesota Wild: I’m a sucker for “this kid basically learned to skate before he could walk” stories.

Montreal Canadiens: This kind of thinking is always going to hold the Habs back. It’s not 1960 any more.

Nashville Predators: We literally just saw the Penguins win a Cup with one of the worst D corps in the playoffs. Defense doesn’t win championships.

New Jersey Devils: Nico, hello.

New York Islanders: Now that he lives in New York, maybe Eberle can get in on a sweet Lundqvist/McEnroe jam sesh.

New York Rangers: Mika Zibanejad has the Rangers in a weird position right now, because he’s arbitration-bound a week from tomorrow and he can probably demand the moon given the team’s needs.

Ottawa Senators: I wouldn’t get too married to this idea here.

Philadelphia Flyers: Uhh, hmm. This is a good question. I think maybe they will be better just because, like, someone has to make a save, right? But they’re also probably not a playoff team, so…

Pittsburgh Penguins: Two-time Stanley Cup Champion Phil Kessel is too good and pure to have to deal with this stuff.

San Jose Sharks: This Sharks team is going to have “five or six” rookies on it next year? Trade Thornton to Pittsburgh! He doesn’t deserve this either!

St. Louis Blues: Robert Thomas aims to be a two-way center in the league one day and I bet he can do it. I’ve heard people describe Robert Thomas’s skating as…………. smooth. Thank you.

Tampa Bay Lightning: I bet the local coverage of the Tampa Bay Lightning is about to get a lot friendlier.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Yeah the Leafs are legitimate Cup contenders. Obviously.

Vancouver Canucks: I don’t like the idea of a Sedinless NHL at all. At all.

Vegas Golden Knights: Oh, uh, cool.

Washington Capitals: I’m not sure I agree with this any more.

Winnipeg Jets: I think we all know the answer to this.

Gold Star Award

Sign Jagr.

Minus of the Weekend

That Jeremy Jacobs story is seriously gross as hell. I would say I can’t believe it, but obviously I can very easily believe it.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “MonahanFan” is thinking good.

Trade 1
TJ Brodie to Toronto for W. Nylander

Trade 2
Kylington, R Andersson, Mangapaine to Buffalo for Alex Nylander

Trade 3
Gaudreau for Hanfin, 2018 1st rd pick

Trade 4
Brouwer to Devils for R Clowe.

Signoff

I believe Freddy Quimby should walk out of here a free hotel.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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