The Lightning will buy out veteran defenseman Matt Carle, giving it much-needed salary cap relief heading into the opening of free agency at noon today.
Carle, 31, was put on buyout waivers by Thursday's 5 p.m. deadline and will be an unrestricted free agent today if he clears.
Carle was Tampa Bay's highest-paid defenseman last season at $5.5 million, and he was under contract for two more seasons. But his role was declining. He was often a healthy scratch last season, including in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Penguins. His buyout would save $3.67 million off the cap each of the next two seasons and be spread out over the next four at a $1.833 million cap hit each season.
Slater Koekkoek, who got key playing time in the playoffs, should get a shot at cracking the top six or seven next season. So should Nikita Nesterov, a restricted free agent, and Luke Witkowski.
With Steven Stamkos signed to an eight-year, $68 million deal Wednesday and Carle expected to get bought out, the Lightning has roughly $13 million in cap space left for next season, the NHL salary website generalfanager.com says. General manager Steve Yzerman said he didn't expect to do anything significant in free agency, other than re-sign his own players.
A key priority is restricted free agent wing Nikita Kucherov, who is coming off a 30-goal season and due a hefty raise over the $700,000 he made last season. The Predators' six-year, $36 million deal with center Filip Forsberg could be a potential market-setter for Kucherov. Yzerman said the Lightning had begun discussions with Kucherov's camp, but no deal appeared imminent. The Lightning also needs to re-sign restricted free agents Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov and Nesterov, among a few others.
Nuts and bolts: Former Lightning assistant coach Steve Thomas, who wasn't brought back for next season, was hired by the Blues as an assistant.