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

Wing Jonathan Drouin, right, who can be a restricted free agent this summer, already has been part of Lightning trade rumors.
Wing Jonathan Drouin, right, who can be a restricted free agent this summer, already has been part of Lightning trade rumors.
Published Apr. 16, 2017

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 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 Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.


  1. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) in the third period overtime of an NHL hockey game Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, in Denver. The Lightning won 4-3 in overtime. [DAVID ZALUBOWSKI  |  AP]
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning center Blake Coleman (20) passes the puck past Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Lightning 7-3. [ROSS D. FRANKLIN  |  AP]
  3. San Jose Sharks right wing Barclay Goodrow (23) controls the puck ahead of New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, at Madison Square Garden in New York. [MARY ALTAFFER  |  AP]
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik  [Times staff]
  5. The Lightning traded for Blake Coleman, right, eight days before the trade deadline. [ROSS D. FRANKLIN  |  AP]
  6. The Lightning signed defenseman Zach Bogosian, whose contract was terminated by Buffalo earlier this week. [MARK ZALESKI  |  AP]
  7. Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin poses with the puck commemorating his 700th career NHL goal that he scored against the New Jersey Devils in the third period at Prudential Center on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Newark, New Jersey. [PATRICK MCDERMOTT  |  AP]
  8. Carolina Hurricanes right wing Nino Niederreiter (21) and center Martin Necas (88) speak to Hurricanes emergency goalie David Ayres as he takes the ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second-period NHL hockey game action in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) [FRANK GUNN  |  AP]
  9. Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) gives up a goal to Arizona Coyotes' Derek Stepan as Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn (2) slides along the ice and Coyotes right wing Conor Garland (83) looks at the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. [ROSS D. FRANKLIN  |  AP]
  10. Fans gather in Thunder Alley at Amalie Arena before the start of the 2019-2020 NHL season home opener between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers on Thursday, October 3, 2019, in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  11. Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette shoots as Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury defends during the third period Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Las Vegas. The Golden Knights won 5-3. [ISAAC BREKKEN  |  AP]