The past week or so sure has been an exciting time for Tampa Bay Lightning fans. The offseason isn’t quite over yet and there’s some business left to be finished, but let’s recap what has happened so far.
The draft started off pretty interesting as a page reportedly from the Lightning’s draft plan was found in a hotel lobby. The page included a list of possible draft pick trades, what they could potentially cost, how the team valued the different picks, and the history of trades for similar picks.
A lot of the information contained on the page wasn’t that hard for even a casual fan to figure out on their own. The most interesting part was the valuation of the picks. If authentic, the page indicates that General Manager Steve Yzerman was considering trading up in the first round from pick number 27 as well as trading down as he did last season with the 28th overall pick.
Instead, Yzerman hung on to the pick and selected Brett Howden from Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League. Howden is a 6’2″ center with some jam and skill to his game. He needs to improve on his finishing ability, but has a nice enough shot while being a solid two-way player. With Brayden Point and Matthew Peca being the leading skilled center prospects in the organization, the team lacked size down the middle. Howden fits that hole well and has room to grow and add more muscle to his frame. He’ll have plenty of time to develop his game in the next two seasons as he’ll follow a similar path as Brayden Point before he makes his full time professional debut.
The second round featured the first move of the day for Yzerman. He traded troubled defensive prospect Anthony DeAngelo for a 2nd round pick. The trade has been debated a lot and certainly you could criticize Yzerman for having made the pick in the first place or for not getting more for the former 1st round pick. DeAngelo has an NHL ready offensive game, but his defensive shortcomings were even more exposed in the AHL. There were and still are legitimate questions on if his defensive abilities would come around to where he could at least be a serviceable third pair defenseman.
DeAngelo’s also had attitude issues in the past and was a healthy scratch for Syracuse at least a half dozen times. This was Yzerman deciding to move on and get the most out of DeAngelo while DeAngelo also wanted a fresh start and a clearer path to the NHL. His game would have needed to come a long way for head coach Jon Cooper to show any trust in DeAngelo on the ice.
With his now three second round picks, Yzerman selected defenseman Libor Hajek and big forwards Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh. The third round saw the pick of overage goaltender Connor Ingram. College bound Ross Colton was the team’s fourth round pick. The fifth round saw Christopher Paquette, secound cousin to current Bolt Cedric Paquette, selected as a project pick. Giraffe defenseman Oleg Sosunov from Russia was selected in the sixth round. The 7th round was rounded out by Otto Somppi a skilled forward playing for Halifax in the QMJHL and college bound Ryan Lohin from the USNTDP.
With the prospect pipeline already in good shape, Yzerman took a lot of project, lottery gamble picks in the later rounds. Colton and Lohin have both put up good numbers in the USHL and are headed to college to develop over the next 3-4 years. Paquette is a forward with size that played on the fourth line for one of the best teams in the CHL and the team will be looking for him to bust out offensively with top six minutes the next couple seasons.
Sosunov is listed at 6’8″ but has a long way to go before making it to professional hockey. He played in B level Junior hockey in Russia last season, but Lightning scouts liked what they saw. Somppi is a Finnish forward playing in the QMJHL that has shown some offensive skill as a playmaker.
One of the more intriguing pick was Connor Ingram in the third round. He’s 19 years old having been passed up in his first draft year. He’ll only need to spend one more year in juniors before he’s eligible for the AHL. It’s very possible that in 2017-18, Andrei Vasilevskiy will be taking over as the starter in the NHL with Kristers Gudlevskis taking the back up position. That would leave only Adam Wilcox in Syracuse. Ingram would be ready to step in and be the 4th goaltender in the system behind Wilcox with the possibility of eventually growing into an NHL caliber backup goaltender.
One of the biggest stories during the draft was Steven Stamkos and where he might go in free agency. On the first day, the Detroit Red Wings made a move with Arizona to dump Pavel Datsyuk’s contract. The belief was that Detroit was making cap room to make a run at Steven Stamkos. With the second day of the draft also came the opening of the interview period, the so-called legal tampering period for teams to talk to pending unrestricted free agents.
Over the next few days, Stamkos was able to talk to teams about how he would fit into their plans and future. In the end, Stamkos decided to stay in Tampa. He undoubtedly left money on the table, signing an 8 year deal worth $8.5 million annually. The structure of the deal though does make it practically buy out proof. Each season, he gets all but $1 million of his salary as a signing bonus on July 1st.
It’s also a front loaded deal, so he’ll be making more in the beginning of the contract and it will go down each year throughout the deal. With the deal being primarily paid as signing bonuses, a buyout will only get the team out of 1/3 of the $1 million salaries meaning that the benefit of a buyout would be almost non-existent.
Shortly after Steven Stamkos came the re-signing of Victor Hedman. Like Stamkos, Hedman took a team friendly deal at 8 years for $7.875 million annually. If he had tried to go on the open market next summer, it’s likely he could have come close to the $9 million annually that P.K. Subban makes. Instead, Hedman showed loyalty to the organization that drafted him and took a deal that will help Yzerman to keep the core together. Unlike Stamkos, Hedman got his deal done on the first day that he could. There won’t be any drama with it hanging over the team all year like Stamkos’ situation did.
Restricted Free Agents and Re-Signings
Yzerman didn’t waste time re-signing two depth pieces in Joel Vermin and Tanner Richard. Vermin saw NHL action last season and Richard was close to making it into the line up with a couple recalls and even skating in warm ups, but hasn’t made his debut yet. Both are expected to be key depth forwards for next year and each one has a possibility of making the team out of training camp with Ryan Callahan being out for the first month after having hip surgery.
Yzerman also re-signed J.T. Brown and Cedric Paquette to two year deals that will keep them around at affordable prices. Brown became a pivotal piece of the bottom six and Paquette will be looking to have a bounce back season after struggling through injuries.
The team also brought back defensemen Luke Witkowski and Matt Taormina to serve as defensive depth as well as veteran leadership for the Syracuse Crunch. Both should be considered candidates for Captain of the Crunch with Mike Angelidis being let go. Ty McGinn, another depth forward and Captain candidate, was also re-signed.
Getting a jump on next offseason, Yzerman completed a deal with Andrei Vasilevskiy which will pay him $3.5 million per year for three years. Vasilevskiy still has one year left on his entry level contract so this deal will start with the 2017-18 season. It’s obvious that Yzerman was hedging the future a bit by locking in Vasilevskiy and should show how highly the organization thinks of the young goaltender and his future with the team.
The only restricted free agents currently left for the team to deal with are Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Nesterov, and Yanni Gourde. Kucherov and Killorn are the big ones in the group while Namestnikov and Nesterov should still be coming in on cheap deals. Gourde is a depth forward and will be cheap. I’m rather surprised there hasn’t been a deal yet on Gourde, but there’s probably some discussions still going on for his AHL salary and guaranteed money in his deal. He could potentially decide to try his luck in Europe.
While Yzerman has done a lot of work to bring back the core pieces of the puzzle for 2016-17, several pieces besides Anthony DeAngelo have moved on. Jonathan Marchessault signed a contract with the Florida Panthers after it was reported that there was mutual interest in returning to the Lightning. Syracuse Crunch Captain Mike Angelidis will not return to the organization. Forward Mike Blunden has signed with the Ottawa Senators. Tough guy David Broll was slated to be a restricted free agent, but was not given a qualifying offer making him an unrestricted free agent. And the cherry on top was the buyout of Matt Carle.
All in all, the subtractions are relatively minor. Matt Carle’s buyout was the most significant as it created salary cap room for the team this year and next year to allow Yzerman to afford the core. The playoffs also made it clear that Slater Koekkoek had surpassed him on the depth chart. Marchessault was a nice depth piece, but he probably saw that he wasn’t going to get much of an opportunity and went somewhere he could slot in as a third line winger where he can build some value over the next couple years and then look for another contract at 27. Blunden and Angelidis were valuable members of the organization and played important roles with the Crunch. However, for both, their advancing age likely contributed to their moving on.
The additions for the team are relatively ‘minor’ as they’ll be spending the majority of their time playing for the Syracuse Crunch. Forwards Michael Bournival, Gabriel Dumont and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond have been signed to two-way contracts.
Michael Bournival is a speedy, energy forward that has battled concussion issues. He’s still young at 24 and seems to be the type of bottom six forward that Yzerman and Jon Cooper like to have with some comparable in his game to J.T. Brown. If he can regain his game, he’ll be a valuable depth forward that could push Paquette, Erik Condra, and other bottom six forwards for playing time. He also has 89 career NHL games.
Gabriel Dumont has been a solid, if not spectacular AHL forward. He should bring some offense to the Crunch and if he plays well enough could get a recall. However, he only has 18 games of NHL experience. Most of his value to the organization will be supporting the up and coming prospects in Syracuse.
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, also known as PL3, is purely an enforcer and has gained quite a reputation around the AHL. Since Eric Nielson left the Crunch, they haven’t had a true enforcer. Sure they had some guys that could fight like Witkowski and Broll, but PL3 is far more of a tough guy than either one. At 31 years old, he has only had 41 games in the NHL and in that time has 101 penalty minutes. In the AHL, he has 448 games and 1,692 penalty minutes to his name. All while having 65 career points. You do the math and figure out why he’s here.
While there’s always going to be room to debate moves, overall, I have to say I’m quite happy with how the offseason has gone. Getting deals done with Stamkos and Hedman by themselves make this offseason an A. The DeAngelo trade and letting Marchessault walk are very defensible moves. PL3 is questionable to me, but I can live with it. And the draft was not spectacular, but seemed to follow the plan that Yzerman and Scouting Director Al Murray have set out for the organization.
Now, it’s up to Yzerman to finish up the loose ends with the handful of restricted free agents remaining and make a decision about possibly trading Ben Bishop.