Monday, November 12, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Re-signing Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin is Lightning's big offseason challenge

TAMPA — It's probably the biggest question this offseason for the Lightning:

Can Tampa Bay afford to sign restricted free agents Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin with its remaining salary cap space?

"I think we can sign all the players we need to sign," GM Steve Yzerman said.

I'll believe it when I see it. In a perfect world, the Lightning would retain Palat, Johnson and Drouin. They can be considered core players. Palat is any line's engine. Johnson is a gutsy and clutch, albeit often injured, one-time All-Star. Drouin is one of the most dynamic players in the league.

But this isn't a perfect world. It's a salary cap world. And it's hard to imagine the Lightning being able to sign all three to long-term deals, plus acquire a backup goalie and the top-four defenseman it has desperately sought. There's also Victor Hedman's extension kicking in next season (nearly doubling his cap number) and what Nikita Kucherov's next deal in two years will look like (hint: massive).

Signing Palat, Johnson and Drouin isn't impossible. But there are lot of moving parts and some work to be done. The expansion Vegas Golden Knights scouted the Lightning heavily late in the season, so Yzerman could try to create more cap room with deals leading up to the June expansion and amateur drafts (maybe moving a contract such as Jason Garrison's?)

LIGHTNING STRIKES PODCAST: Beat writer Joe Smith and columnist Tom Jones wrap up the season

Palat appears to be a sure signing, and it wouldn't be surprising if his deal is done first. Johnson wants to stay, calling Tampa Bay his "second home." But coming off a three-year, $3.3 million bridge deal, he will be looking for a long-term commitment. I think Tampa Bay will try to work something out, though the emergence of rookie Brayden Point gives the team a solid backup plan at center.

Then comes Drouin. The 2013 No. 3 overall draft pick is coming off a breakout 21-goal season. It would be very difficult to replace Drouin's playmaking skill set. Still, I wouldn't be stunned if the Lightning shops Drouin leading up to the amateur draft. It was rumored that Drouin was part of the package in the Lightning's January offer to the Blues for D Kevin Shattenkirk, who nixed the trade. And teams were kicking the tires on Drouin at this season's trade deadline (St. Louis, Nashville).

I don't like the idea of trading Drouin, but who else on this team would net a return of a top-caliber, right-shot defenseman? And don't count on Drouin taking a discounted deal to stay in Tampa Bay long term. Drouin's asking price could be a "five- or six- or seven-year deal at north of $6 million" per year, said Bob McKenzie, a reporter for Canada's TSN TV network.

My guess is Drouin's first long-term deal could come somewhere other than Tampa Bay.

SLAP SHOTS: The Lightning's trade-deadline deals of Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula were shrewd for salary cap purposes, the team ending the year with $644,500 in cap space, as opposed to a $1.19 million overage that would have to be carried into next year, the website capfriendly.com says. But I'm betting fans would trade that $1 million for a playoff berth. … Sounds like Hedman will play for Sweden at next month's World Championship, with D Anton Stralman potentially joining him as long as he gets medical clearance. … Love the video of former AHL Syracuse captain Luke Witkowski sweeping up ice shavings at a recent Crunch home game. … Cool to see that the U.S. women's team selection camp will be April 30-May 4 at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Comments
Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Marty St. Louis ‘was always looking for more’

Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Marty St. Louis ‘was always looking for more’

Marty St. Louis is the man who made the Lightning go, the best player in franchise history, who proved so many people wrong on his way to the top of the hockey world.
Published: 11/11/18
How the Ottawa Senators beat the Tampa Bay Lightning

How the Ottawa Senators beat the Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning came back from a two-goal deficit, then gave up a two-goal deficit and lost to Ottawa by two goals on Saturday.Final: Senators 6, Lightning 4Ryan Dzingel placed a shot perfectly over Andrei Vasilevskiy's shoulder to put Ottawa on top mi...
Published: 11/10/18
Lightning blows third-period lead, falls to Senators

Lightning blows third-period lead, falls to Senators

TAMPA — This time against the Senators, the Lightning didn't have to play catch-up for most of the game.This time, the Lightning actually held a lead. 4-2, to be exact.But this time, the Lightning was on the other end of a third-period comeback...
Published: 11/10/18
Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways from the Lightning-Senators game

Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways from the Lightning-Senators game

Mathieu Joseph popped the top and he just can't stop. The rookie forward, who went without a goal in his first 13 NHL games, has scored in three of his past four games. And Saturday was his first multipoint game, with two goals and an assist.Bruce Be...
Published: 11/10/18
Lightning journal: Different game preparation when teams meet twice in one week

Lightning journal: Different game preparation when teams meet twice in one week

TAMPA — The Lightning and the Senators had an easy time pulling video to review before Saturday's game at Amalie Arena; their previous meeting was only seven days prior.Lighting C J.T. Miller liked that the Lightning was able to see what worked...
Published: 11/10/18
Lightning pregame: What to know about the Ottawa Senators

Lightning pregame: What to know about the Ottawa Senators

For the second time in seven days, the Lightning are preparing to take on the Senators.On Sunday, Brayden Point scored with 27 seconds left in regulation to force overtime and Yanni Gourde scored 14 seconds into overtime for a 4-3 win.Since then, bot...
Published: 11/10/18
How Jon Cooper and the Lightning are bucking the NHL trend

How Jon Cooper and the Lightning are bucking the NHL trend

Lightning coach Jon Cooper is now the longest-tenured coach at five years. But it wasn't long ago that wasn't that long.
Published: 11/09/18
Cameron Gaunce reassigned to Syracuse, opening roster spot for potential Victor Hedman return

Cameron Gaunce reassigned to Syracuse, opening roster spot for potential Victor Hedman return

Victor Hedman could return to the Lightning lineup as soon as tomorrow against the Ottawa Senators.
Published: 11/09/18
Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Islanders game

Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Islanders game

It was nice to have Sonya Bryson back at Amalie Arena, singing the national anthem for Military Appreciation Night. The performance was made even more special as she was joined by fellow veteran Robert McClintock, a few days shy of his 100th birthday...
Published: 11/08/18
Tyler Johnson’s late goal gives the Lightning an imperfect win

Tyler Johnson’s late goal gives the Lightning an imperfect win

TAMPA — After five-plus seasons, Tyler Johnson knows what to expect from Nikita Kucherov, even if Kucherov was a late-game addition to his line. The two combined for the winning goal against the Islanders on Thursday with less than two minutes ...
Published: 11/08/18