NHL rumors: Lightning, Penguins, Flames face tough decisions heading into busy offseason

Sporting News

Upsets dominated the opening round of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Among the early departures were the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames, making history as the first top seeds from each conference to be eliminated from the first round in the same postseason. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets were also among the opening-round casualties.

As their players headed into an offseason that came much earlier than they expected, the respective general managers of each club prepare for what could be a busy summer.

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Tampa Bay Lightning

Despite his club's early playoff exit, Lightning GM Julien BriseBois maintained his faith in head coach Jon Cooper and his core players. With his team winning its first Presidents' Trophy with a record-tying 62-win campaign, BriseBois said he wouldn't overreact because of one bad series.

The Lightning GM acknowledged his club's salary-cap constraints for 2019-20 will result in some roster changes. With over $73 million invested in 16 players next season, BriseBois could have around $10 million to work with if the salary cap rises to $83 million as projected.

Center Brayden Point is a restricted free agent due for a big raise following a 92-point performance during the regular season. Veteran defensemen Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman are slated to become unrestricted free agents in July. BriseBois must shed a salary or two to free up sufficient cap space for Point's raise and to re-sign or replace those UFA blueliners.

The Athletic's Joe Smith suggested Ryan Callahan could become a trade or buyout candidate. The 34-year-old right wing has a year remaining on his contract with an annual average value of $5.8 million and a modified no-trade clause. With his best years behind him, Callahan could be packaged with a high draft pick or a top prospect to make a deal more palatable.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post proposed versatile forward J.T. Miller as a more likely trade option. The 26-year-old is signed through 2022-23 with a $5.25 million annual cap hit and lacks a no-trade clause. His two-way abilities could make him enticing for clubs seeking skilled forward depth.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Following the Penguins' opening-round elimination, GM Jim Rutherford insisted his club's window of opportunity to win another Cup remains open. However, he believed several players grew too content after winning Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.

Rutherford isn't about to put franchise players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the block but he could attempt to ship out a high-priced veteran or two to bring in younger, affordable talents. The Penguins have over $79.7 million tied up in 18 players.

Many observers feel Phil Kessel could hit the trade block. The 32-year-old right winger is signed through 2021-22 with an eight-team trade list and an $8 million annual salary-cap hit (with the Toronto Maple Leafs picking up $1.2 million annually). Nevertheless, The Athletic's Rob Rossi reported the Penguins fielded offers last summer for Kessel, who was apparently receptive to joining the Arizona Coyotes. Rutherford didn't move Kessel then but could be more willing to listen now.

It appears Penguins coach Mike Sullivan lost confidence this season in defenseman Olli Maatta, who could benefit from a change of scenery. The 24-year-old carries a reasonable $4.083 million cap hit through 2022-23 and could tempt clubs in the market for a young puck-moving blueliner.

Calgary Flames

Flames GM Brad Treliving faces a decision regarding his goaltending tandem. Veteran Mike Smith is an unrestricted free agent in July and was inconsistent during the regular season. The Athletic's Eric Duhatschek speculates Treliving could bring Smith back if the 37-year-old accepts a short-term deal with a pay cut.

Duhatschek also suggested shopping James Neal and resolving the logjam on the Flames blueline. Address the latter could be easier, as the 31-year-old Neal had a disastrous first season in Calgary. Though he lacks no-trade protection, he has four seasons left on his contract with a $5.75 million cap hit.

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With young defensemen Rasmus Andersson and Jusso Valimaki seeing more playing time next season, Duhatschek suggested Treliving entertain offers for T.J. Brodie. The 28-year-old rearguard is a year away from UFA status with an affordable $4.625 million cap hit and a modified no-trade clause.

Winnipeg Jets

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff must decide what to do with defenseman Jacob Trouba, who's once again a restricted free agent with arbitration rights and a year away from UFA eligibility. ESPN.com's Emily Kaplan believes a trade seems likely given the contentious contract negotiation history between the two sides.

The Jets have over $55.6 million committed to 12 players with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor due for hefty raises this summer. To free up sufficient cap room to re-sign those two and perhaps add a full-time second-line center, Cheveldayoff could be forced to move out a high-salaried player like winger Nikolaj Ehlers.

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