Early this week, reports came out that Dallas Stars restricted free agent was going to sign with CSKA Moscow of the KHL. Media reports came back almost immediately that Nichushkin’s agent was saying nothing was done and that all options were still on the table. Now CSKA Moscow has announced that terms have been agreed to for a two-year deal, though the contract has not been signed yet.
Assuming that Nichushkin does follow through with the agreement and signs the contract, it leaves the Dallas Stars with a little more cap room than they previously had. We had previously explored a trade of Ben Bishop to the Dallas Stars, but that was assuming Nichushkin would be re-signed. Now that he’s going to the KHL, it opens up somewhere between $2 and $4 million in cap space that the Stars otherwise would not have had.
According to CapFriendly.com’s roster projection, the Stars have just under $5.985 million in cap space with 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies. Ben Bishop has a $5.95 million cap hit and Steve Yzerman is likely still looking at options for making some salary cap room to get Nikita Kucherov’s long term deal done.
In a trade involving Bishop, Stars GM Jim Nill would likely want to move back one of Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen in the trade. Otherwise, he’d have to find a corresponding move to clear up his goalie logjam. For Yzerman, it seems unlikely that Kristers Gudlevskis would be tabbed as a back up for Andrei Vasilevskiy. That works out for both teams.
Taking back Antti Niemi would provide Vasilevskiy with a veteran back-up and insurance for the team. However, his full $4.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons doesn’t relieve much salary cap pressure for the Lightning. If Dallas retained half of Niemi’s salary, it would leave them with $2.25 million in cap space after adding Bishop. For Tampa Bay, it would add $3.7 million in cap space.
That would give them more than enough room to sign Nikita Kucherov to a $6.5 million contract, re-sign Nikita Nesterov (though that may not matter if he ends up in the AHL), and also do more with James Wisniewski if they seek to sign him for more than a year. There’d also be a possibility of buying out Niemi next summer if it was necessary to make room.
The added salary cap space would also give Yzerman flexibility when it comes to injury recalls and more room to absorb any bonus money that Drouin and any other player on an entry level contract, like Slater Koekkoek and Andrei Vasilevskiy, may earn over the year.
In addition, the Lightning would be in a position to ask for a nice return from Dallas in exchange for Bishop and taking some of Niemi’s salary over the next two years. You’d have to imagine that Yzerman would likely be asking about Julius Honka or Esa Lindell. Both are young defensemen with upside and are nearly NHL ready. Honka is more of a replacement for the recently traded Anthony DeAngelo and is also right handed.
However, Lindell seems to fit more of the Yzerman/Cooper mold as a well-rounded two-way defenseman with good hockey sense. A first round pick could be in play as well, however, it would likely be in the second half of the first round and Yzerman could be seeking more than that.
Is this the best move for the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup this season? Probably not. Ben Bishop is certainly better than Vasilevskiy right now. On the other hand, at some point, the reins have to be given over to Vasilevskiy either this year or next. One consideration will be to get him up to speed as a full-time starter. If you do that sooner rather than later, you could be giving this team an even better chance to win over the next 2-3 years while the main core of this group is still intact.