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What next season’s projected salary cap means for Lightning

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman projected the NHL's 2019-20 salary cap will reach about $83 million on Monday, a good thing if it comes true for the soon-to-be cap-strapped Lightning.
Julien BriseBois takes over for Steve Yzerman who hired him as assistant GM in 2010. BriseBois came to the Lightning from the Canadiens. “I got lucky Steve was looking for someone here,” he says. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published Dec. 4, 2018

TAMPA — On the opening day of the NHL's Board of Governors meetings, the Lightning received some positive news that had nothing to do with Seattle.

Instead, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman projected that the 2019-20 salary cap will climb to about $83 million. That's an increase of $3.5 million from this season's cap.

Why is this good news for the Lightning? Well, cap space will become a rare commodity in Tampa the next few years. The Lightning has a solid core that has the potential to play at a high level for several years, but it won't be cheap to maintain.

$71.29 million is the starting point. That's the cap hit for all 16 Lightning players who are signed through next season and are currently on the NHL roster or injured reserve, according to CapFriendly.com. That number does not include forwards Cedric Paquette, Adam Erne, Danick Martel or defensemen Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman and Slater Koekkoek.

And one more important name that number does not include: Brayden Point.

Point, whose 20 goals are tied for second in the NHL this season, will become a restricted free agent this offseason. Also RFAs: Paquette, Erne, Martel and Koekkoek. Coburn, Girardi and Stralman are unrestricted free agents.

It would not be surprising to see Point command top dollar if he keeps playing this way. His cap hit probably won't be that of Steven Stamkos ($8.5 million) or Nikita Kucherov ($9.5 million), but it might not be that far off. Just look at what 22-year-old Toronto forward William Nylander signed this week — a six-year contract that will equate to a $6.96 million cap hit each year. It's highly unlikely that Point receives much less than that.

No matter what happens when Point signs his next contract, it's safe to say he will command a much bigger cap hit than the $686,667 cap hit he carries this season.

Also pushing the Lightning more up against the cap next season: the contracts of Yanni Gourde and Kucherov. Gourde's cap hit will increase by $4.16 million and Kucherov's cap hit will jump $4.73 million.

And the Lightning will need to sign several defensemen, whether those are the in-house players or on the free agent market. Right now, the Lightning has only four defensemen under contract for 2019-20: Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak.

None of this is news to Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois, though. The only surprise might have come in the form of the $3.5 million extra cap space for next season that Bettman projected Monday.

And it's no doubt a welcomed surprise. No matter the number, the Lightning will value any extra cap space the NHL will provide. To keep this Stanley Cup contender together, Tampa Bay will need all the cap space it can get.

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