The Lightning may not currently have a first-round pick in the NHL draft opening Tuesday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t end up with one.
Part of the anticipation on draft day is who will be picked when and by whom. The other part is waiting for trades to be made. Tampa Bay is in the trade market.
General manager Julien BriseBois said late last week he didn’t have an exact timeline, declining to say whether he planned to make any trades before the draft. But he’ll need to make some kind move or moves before next season starts.
The Lightning exchanged the two first-round picks they had for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow at the trade deadline. If they make a move on Tuesday, they could end up with a pick after all.
The Lightning were looking at a tough situation this offseason no matter what.
They had salary-cap challenges with important players, such as center Anthony Cirelli and defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak, becoming restricted free agents. It’s even harder now that the cap remains at $81.5 million.
Currently, the Lightning have 15 players under contract for next season with a total cap hit of almost $76 million. That leaves $5.3 million to sign eight more players.
Last year, the organization was fortunate. BriseBois was able to trade forwards J.T. Miller and Ryan Callahan (the latter of whom was unable to play) and re-signed center Brayden Point to a favorable contract.
Part of the value in trading for Coleman and Goodrow was their low contracts ($1.8 million and $925,000, respectively), looking ahead to this offseason. But that’s not enough. BriseBois is going to have to get creative to make cap space this year.
The Lightning don’t have a history of big player trades on draft day. The Miller trade was only the second time the organization had traded a player actively under contract since 2013, according to capfriendly.com. The other was then-AHL defenseman Tony DeAngelo (currently with the Rangers).
Tampa Bay has typically stuck to trading picks to move around within the draft
In 2015, they traded down and got Mitchell Stephens in the second round and Cirelli in the third.
In 2014, they traded up a single spot to get Point.
The Miller trade, like any potential trades the Lightning could make during this year’s draft, was about cap space. Tampa Bay gave up a top-nine forward with a $5.25 million contract in return for two picks: a third-rounder last year and a first-rounder this year, which they flipped for Coleman.
A top-nine forward, like Coleman, Goodrow or Miller, typically costs high draft picks, because they’re proven in that role, compared to the uncertainty of the potential pick.
In assessing his trade-deadline moves for Coleman and Goodrow, BriseBois said the thing about evaluating trades is actual value versus perceived value.
In the case of the Goodrow trade, the Lightning gave up a first-round pick and got an established NHL player and a third-round pick. BriseBois said the cost is the difference in probability of two unknown players, selected two rounds apart, developing into an NHL contributor two to four years down the road.
It’s the same calculations, in reverse, the Lightning could be making this offseason.
They’ll have to give up a top-nine forward — they only have three defensemen under contract, so it’s probably a forward who gets moved — and can look to open cap space while gauging the probability of getting a future contributor in return.