The Lightning's signing of defenseman Braydon Coburn to a three-year extension Friday raised some eyebrows.
Some thought Tampa Bay would have other issues more on the front-burner, such as Monday's trade deadline and that whole Steven Stamkos contract saga.
But signing Coburn, 30, who could have been an unrestricted free agent this summer, to a three-year, $11.1 million deal, wasn't a bad move. Coburn is an experienced, steady, minutes-eating defenseman and a key penalty killer who provides leadership and a physical presence. Even with his size — 6 feet 5, 226 pounds — he can skate well. And a $3.7 million annual average salary is palatable, considering the cost of defensemen on the open market.
Coburn took less to stay with the Lightning — he makes $4.5 million this season — but gets the security of a full no-trade clause for the first two seasons of the deal and a limited one for the last year.
"That, in my opinion, is a great deal because you need a player just like Coburn to be successful but you don't want to pay too much or have too much term," said NHL Network analyst Craig Button, a former general manager. "Astute signing."
Locking up Coburn would seem to limit the Lightning's financial flexibility going forward, with $23.75 million now committed to six defensemen next season (the others: Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Andrej Sustr, Jason Garrison and Matt Carle). The Capitals, for example, have around $20 million slated for six defensemen next season. Also, Hedman is due another deal, and a raise, after next season, not to mention any deal for Stamkos, who can be a free agent July 1, or wing Nikita Kucherov, who can be a restricted free agent.
So another move probably is coming. It could be buying out Carle ($5.5 million cap hit the next two seasons) if he's not traded.
GM Steve Yzerman said Coburn's deal helps planning for next season. As of today, he said he's comfortable with the money tied up in the blue line.
"We'll see this summer what happens with some of our other free agents," Yzerman said. "We'll know what the (salary) cap is. … Then we can react."
Yzerman paid a hefty price for Coburn at last year's deadline, shipping defenseman Radko Gudas and first- and third-round draft picks to the Flyers for him. Yzerman said he always intended to keep Coburn after his current contract was up.
And Yzerman reiterated the extension doesn't reflect any dip in confidence in defense prospects such as Anthony DeAngelo, Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek, who was expected to compete for a spot in next season's training camp.
Yzerman said Coburn's leadership ability will only help the young defensemen.
"Generally … you can never have too many defensemen," Yzerman said. "Nobody is going to be blocked from when they're ready to play. We wanted Braydon in our organization for his play, but also for his professionalism."
SLAP SHOTS: Yzerman has been asking for a right-shot defenseman in any deal involving suspended RW Jonathan Drouin, Canada's TSN TV network reported. … There's a reason Yzerman hopes to bolster the power play. The Lightning is 2-for-51 with the man advantage on the road since Dec. 6, including an 0-for-6 Friday in New Jersey. … You have to give credit to Carle, who often takes heat from fans. Carle is plus-10 in his past five games, including two goals and an assist after going without a point in his first 41. It's not Carle's fault he's the highest-paid Lightning defenseman, which makes him a target for criticism. He has been a true pro in the locker room and handled being a regular healthy scratch as well as anyone can. And Carle has stepped up in the injury absence of Garrison. … This recent stretch is the best I've seen Stamkos play all season, and it couldn't have come at a better time, for him and the Lightning.
WORLD CUP: The initial rosters for September's World Cup of Hockey will be announced Wednesday, with the first 16 players on each of the tournament's eight teams identified. There should be a significant representation from the Lightning, including Stamkos (Canada), C Valtteri Filppula (Finland), C Tyler Johnson and G Ben Bishop (United States), Hedman and Stralman (Sweden), and Kucherov and G Andrei Vasilevskiy (Russia). Coach Jon Cooper is on the staff for the North America team, to be made up of players from the United States and Canada 23 and younger.