With it becoming official that the Lightning have signed defenseman James Wisniewski to a try-out contract with an invitation to training camp, it’s possible to look at what his impact on the roster could be. He’ll need to prove that he is healthy and ready to go at training camp. Something going for him though is that the Lightning have a number of NHL caliber players from the blue line (Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Andrej Sustr, and Nikita Nesterov) on World Cup of Hockey rosters. In their absence, especially fellow right handers Stralman and Sustr, Wisniewski will have an opportunity to grab a lot of ice time in the early part of camp.
Outside of Stralman, the Lightning do not have an offensively capable defenseman that is also right handed. Wisniewski definitely can provide that. In 552 career NHL games, he has 274 points. He is something of a liability defensively with a pretty consistently negative plus-minus rating throughout his career as much of his point production comes from the power play.
The Lightning have coveted a strong right handed point defenseman for sometime that is a threat to pass and shoot. Stralman is a threat to pass, but sometimes he can be rushed and pressured. He also doesn’t shoot often enough from the point to keep teams honest, often telegraphing the pass to Steven Stamkos in his office.
With Wisniewski on the roster, it would allow general manager Steve Yzerman to send Slater Koekkoek back to the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch. It’s debatable if that’s a good decision though as Koekkoek seems to be ready for the NHL and at this point more AHL time could set his development back rather than push it forward. But it’s also hard to see Koekkoek or Wisniewski sitting in the press box so the other could play.
One possibility it could open up though is a trade of left handed defenseman Jason Garrison. Moving Garrison would create the space needed for Koekkoek and Wisniewski to stay. It would also create salary cap space for the signings of Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov. Yzerman could also wait a while to make a decision by putting Ryan Callahan on Long Term Injured Reserve to start the season, put Koekkoek in Syracuse temporarily, and then look to make a move with Garrison after the season starts.
Wisniewski will also offer a little bit of salary cap maneuvering as well. Because he has over 400 NHL games and spent more than 100 days last season on the Injured Reserve List, Wisniewski is eligible for performance bonuses if he is signed to a one-year contract. He’s also being paid $1 million in actual salary by the Carolina Hurricanes this season. The Lightning could give Wisniewski a low base salary, say around $750,000, and then give him $1-$2 million in performance bonuses if he meets certain performance milestones.
Wisniewski’s base salary would be charged to the salary cap for this season. At the end of the season, any performance bonuses that are paid is then added to the salary cap accrual for the year. If the team exceeds the salary cap because of the bonuses, that bonus money would carry over as an overage into next season. Currently, the only player likely to hit a significant amount in performance bonuses is Jonathan Drouin and perhaps Andrei Vasilevskiy. That would allow for some of Wisniewski’s salary to carry over to next season in the form of a performance overage.
There’s still a ways to go before we get some clarity on Wisniewski’s status going forward with the team. It may not be until the second week of October before we know. A lot of it rides on how healthy his knee his, how well he performs, and what over moves Yzerman might make between now and the opening of the season.