TAMPA — As expected, the Lightning re-signed defenseman Jake Dotchin on Wednesday to a bargain, two-year deal worth $812,500 annually.
That was the easy part.
The more challenging next step for Tampa Bay is coming to terms with its big-name restricted free agents, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Both filed for arbitration by Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadline.
No need to set off any alarms. This move was expected, a logical next step in negotiations. Johnson and Palat will have arbitration hearings scheduled in late July/early August for their camps and the Lightning to each propose a contract for next season and argue their case, with an independent arbitrator ruling.
Keep in mind, the Lightning, Palat and Johnson can negotiate until the hearings. It wouldn't be surprising if Johnson and Palat sign deals before their hearings are held, like Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov did last July. It doesn't sound like the parties are far apart. The Lightning has the money — $13.6 million in salary cap space — and wants to bring Johnson and Palat back.
But to this point, neither the players nor the team has had a deadline in negotiations. Now they do. My best guess is Johnson and Palat each gets a deal that nets in the $5 million annual average range. Both players are coming off identical three-year, $10 million bridge deals.
General manager Steve Yzerman said Saturday that a reason he didn't want to give up much term on free agent deals when free agency opened that day was because of looming long-term deals with his current players, such as Johnson and Palat. Nikita Kucherov will need a new deal in two years, Andrei Vasilevskiy soon after.
"It's hard to make long-term commitments," Yzerman said Saturday. "We can only do that with so many players. We've done that with a few of our guys. And we're looking at contracts for Palat and Johnson, and not too far away is (Kucherov) and after him is (Vasilevskiy). So you have to keep those things in mind."
In other Lightning news:
• Forward Matt Peca signed a one-year, two-way deal with an NHL salary of $650,000. Peca, 24, was impressive in his 10-game callup last season and with AHL Syracuse in its run to the Calder Cup final. Peca could compete for a roster spot in training camp or be a key cog with the Crunch.
• Syracuse signed goalie Nick Riopel to an AHL contract. Riopel will likely be back with ECHL Kalamazoo.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.