At an event focused on the far future, the Lightning’s biggest move of the draft has an immediate impact.
Tampa Bay traded forward J.T. Miller to Vancouver during the second round Saturday.
In return, the Lightning received a third-round draft pick this year (71st overall), a conditional first-round pick next year (the pick slides to 2021 if the Canucks don’t make the playoffs), and an AHL veteran goaltender.
General manager Julien BriseBois had said the Lightning wouldn’t consider need in making its draft picks because most of those players won’t be in the league for a few years, if at all. He still found a way to address the team’s biggest immediate concern: the salary cap.
“We’ve been able to work the cap and keep all our players,” BriseBois told reporters in Vancouver. “We’ve been saying eventually we were going to have to move someone.”
He said the Lightning had to move a good player on a good contract to keep players “who are a little more integral to the core of our team.”
Miller has four more years left on his contract at $5.25 million a season. He was one of few Lightning players without a no-trade clause and will now pick up his family and move for the second time in 16 months. He came to the Lightning from the Rangers in a trade with Ryan McDonagh in February 2018.
Miller played 94 games in a year and a half with the Lightning, putting up 65 points (23 goals). The 26-year-old has the skills to be a second-line center or wing, but he was shifted around the lineup on the deep Lightning.
The Lightning finished the season with less than $1.7 million of cap space under last year’s limit of $79.5 million. Most of the contracts set to come off the books through free agency covered only the cost of raises due to Nikita Kucherov, Yanni Gourde and McDonagh.
The Lightning still does have potential free agents to consider, including its potential restricted ones, a list highlighted by Brayden Point and also features Cedric Paquette, Adam Erne and Danick Martel.
Point is the big one. He was the best deal in the NHL this year, finishing his entry-level contract at $686,667 while recording his first 40-goal season.
The 22-year-old has earned a major contract. He could end up in the $8 million-a-year range, near Steven Stamkos.
But BriseBois had to figure out how to pay for it.
He got a little bit of help with Saturday’s reveal of next season’s cap at $81.5 million. The Lightning has $10.6 million available under the new cap, according to the salary website capfriendly.com. It can also exceed the cap by up to $5.8 million with last week’s announcement that Ryan Callahan is going on long-term injured reserve with a degenerative back disease.
BriseBois said the Lightning and Point are probably very early in the process of negotiating a new contract but reiterated his confidence they will get one done. Free agency begins a week from Monday.
Speaking on NHL Network, Vancouver coach Travis Green credited Miller’s skill and versatility, playing center and wing. He said he has been looking for someone to play with Elias Pettersson, this season’s Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year, and Brock Boeser, a Calder finalist last year, on the second line.
Tampa Bay turned the third-round pick it got in the deal into Hugo Alnefelt, a Swedish goalie. He played five games at this year’s under-18 World Championship with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.
The goalie who came in the trade is Marek Mazanec, who has spent parts of six seasons in the AHL and is a pending free agent. He has already signed to play in his native Czech Republic, but this gives the Lightning a chance to talk to him about staying in North America.
Tampa Bay does not have an AHL goalie under contract after trading Connor Ingram to the Predators this month and seeing Eddie Pasquale sign in the KHL.