Now that Vladislav Namestnikov has signed for a reported $1,937,500 contract for the next two seasons, we have a little more of an idea of how much money the Lightning have left to spend. Since I’ve also gotten a lot of questions and discussions on Twitter after Namestnikov’s signing, I figure this is a good time to clear up some things that came up there in this article.
Right now it’s being reported that the Lightning have $6.6 million in cap space. However, both CapFriendly and GeneralFanager are listing the team with Matt Taormina on the NHL roster and Slater Koekkoek in the minors. I find that to be a highly unlikely outcome of training camp unless the team is so strapped for space that they are forced to choose the cheaper Taormina over the more capable Koekkoek.
If you replace Taormina with Koekkoek on the roster, the cap space goes to $6,272,499.
Screenshot courteous of CapFriendly.com.
To start the season, the Lightning can place Ryan Callahan on Long Term Injured Reserve and receive some salary cap relief. This cap relief would be helpful in recalling injury replacements while he is out for the first month or so of the season. However, once he comes back into the line up, the salary cap relief goes away and the Lightning would be back to trying to fit all of the pieces in and dealing with any other potential injuries.
After Nikita Kucherov is signed, the Lightning will have 13 forwards on the roster, but only 12 healthy forwards with Callahan out. With Nesterov signed, the Lightning will have 7 defensemen on the roster.
I was asked if the team could just not sign Nesterov. The answer is, no. They have given him a qualifying offer and are obligated to give him at least that. The other problem is that the team will still need a 7th defenseman on the roster. Even if it’s not Nesterov, he still serves as a placeholder for a player like Taormina or Luke Witkowski and the difference between their salary and what Nesterov is likely to get is at most $350,000.
If the team is to have 13 healthy forwards on the roster to start the season, it will need $575,000 in cap space to carry one of Cory Conacher, Tanner Richard, or Joel Vermin or as an outside possibility, Tye McGinn, Michael Bournival, or Jeremy Morin.
Once Callahan returns, the team has the equivalent of $6.27 million in cap space without considering Kucherov and Nesterov’s contracts. Nesterov should sign for somewhere between $600,000 and $850,000. Even figuring on the low end, or the possibility of another veteran taking his spot as the 7th defenseman, that leaves no more than $5.65 million for Kucherov. It is highly unlikely that Kucherov will sign for less than $6 million especially in light of contracts to players like Barkov and Forsberg in recent months.
Even then, the team still needs to build in some salary cap space for injury replacements later in the year. The longer the team can go without needing injury replacements, the more salary cap space they’ll save along the way and the easier it becomes to recall players from the minor leagues as their pro-rated remaining salary becomes smaller as the year goes on. If the team somehow signed Nesterov and Kucherov for a combined $6 million, it would leave the team with no room to recall any players after Callahan returns.
The last consideration is potential performance bonuses for Jonathan Drouin, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Slater Koekkoek. While Vasilevskiy and Koekkoek’s performance bonuses are unlikely to be large, Drouin has a lot of potential to add $1-$2 million or more to the cap this year if he hits performance milestones. If the team exceeds the salary cap because of these bonuses, that overage would carry over to next season and would be a charge against next season’s cap. The Lightning have experience that this year as almost $315,000 in bonus overages from Nikita Kucherov were carried over.
If my prediction of Kucherov signing for $6.5 million and Nesterov for $800,000, then the Lightning need to clear at least $1.5 to $2 million in salary. Any player that gets traded or bought out though would also need to be replaced by another player. This rules out the possibility of trading lower cost players like Erik Condra, Cedric Paquette, or Brian Boyle as the savings would be minimal for any of those players.
The Lightning instead can look towards someone like Valtteri Filppula with his $5 million cap hit. Even if the Lightning retain half of his salary to move him, it should create enough cap space for the team to get through this season. However, moving his full salary would be even better especially considering the raises that will be due to Drouin, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat next season as well as the raise Andrei Vasilevskiy has already locked in.
Another option to move would be Ben Bishop as he carriers a $5.95 million cap hit and is likely the most valuable trade piece the Lightning could conceivably move in a deal. His replacement could be a goalie coming back that is till owed some salary (like Antii Niemi) or Kristers Gudlevskis with his $600,000 cap hit.
A dark horse option would be Jason Garrison and his $4.6 million cap hit. He has declined a little bit over the past year and has another year on his contract past this season. The problem with moving Garrison is that it would be a large blow to our defensive depth. It’s unlikely a player that could fill in for him would come back in the deal and would force Slater Koekkoek to move up into the top 4 role that would be vacated.
If Yzerman has shown one thing in the past couple seasons is that he does not want to be without defensive depth. We got burned by not having that depth in 2013-14 and Yzerman won’t let that happen again which makes Garrison an unlikely choice.