TAMPA — Julien BriseBois called it “cap gymnastics,” and the general manager is no stranger to the intricate number crunching, loophole arranging and roster maneuvering necessary to make the Lightning salary-cap compliant.
Monday, the Lightning placed veterans Tyler Johnson and Luke Schenn on waivers, moves not intended to part ways with the players, but to allow the team to gain valuable salary-cap flexibility for the upcoming season.
Because the Lightning are using long term injury reserve to become cap compliant — Nikita Kucherov’s injury, which will cost him the regular season, along with the acquisition of two dead contracts from Ottawa, allowed the Lightning to do so — the team needed to set its salary-cap threshold as close to the $81.5 million cap as possible.
The cap is set on opening night, so what the team’s cap number is on Wednesday is the number they are allowed to spend on a nightly basis moving forward.
This season’s taxi squad, which is designed to allow teams quick replacements to their active roster if they lose players to the coronavirus, will allow BriseBois to keep Johnson and Schenn in the organization if they clear waivers.
“As with every decision we make regarding the operation of our team, we made this decision with the objective of increasing our odds of success,” BriseBois said. “And part of the ingredients necessary to success in the NHL is team depth. In order to have team depth, you need to properly manage your cap space.
“And it’s with that in mind I decided to place Tyler and Luke on waivers in an effort to take advantage of the CBA rules and to create as much cap space and flexibility as possible in a context where we’re gonna have very little cap space this season and also where the NHL and NHLPA instituted a new taxi squad option for clubs this season.”
Johnson was placed on waivers and cleared during the offseason, when the Lightning were trying to find salary cap solutions. Monday’s move is more about providing maneuverability.
BriseBois made a point that having to use LTIR to become cap compliant isn’t ideal, because it involves a lot of roster wrangling, but the Lightning did it in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 and reached the Stanley Cup and Eastern Conference finals, respectively, in those seasons.
If they clear waivers, Johnson and Schenn will have to remain on the team’s taxi squad on Wednesday, so they wouldn’t be available for the opener against the Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena.
“Assuming they clear waivers, they’ll be on our taxi squad that first day,” BriseBois said. “And then Tyler will come back, he’ll come back on our roster going forward, and Luke and (defenseman) Cal Foote, the coaches will decide how they use those two players between the taxi squad and our active roster.”
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The 22-year-old Foote, the Lightning’s first-round pick in 2017, will make the team’s opening-night roster. While BriseBois made it clear that Foote deserved an active spot on the roster and was among the team’s top seven defensemen, it was also about ensuring Foote could be moved between the active roster and the taxi squad.
Because the Lightning are using offseason LTIR, Foote carries a different cap hit number depending on whether he opens the season on the active roster or the taxi squad. If he’s on the roster, it’s only $925,000, but if he’s on the taxi squad, his $500,000 of performance bonuses from his entry-level contract are added in, so his hit would be $1.425 million.
Placing Foote on the active roster on opening night allows the team to move him back and forth between the taxi squad, and he still is under the $1 million threshold to be recalled from the taxi squad as an emergency replacement if the team finds itself without six healthy defensemen.
“Your seven best defensemen, they all play fairly regularly over the course of a season,” BriseBois said. “And by taking the steps today that I’ve taken and by using a taxi squad going forward, it allows us to have access to all seven of our best defensemen, including Luke Schenn. So, being in an LTI(R) situation, it isn’t ideal, but it is manageable.”
In addition to Johnson and Schenn, the team also placed defenseman Andreas Borgman, goaltenders Christopher Gibson, forward Gemel Smith and defenseman Ben Thomas on waivers. If they all clear, they would likely make up the remainder of the team’s six-man practice squad for opening night.
The Lightning also reassigned Alex Barre-Boulet, Ross Coulton, Sean Day, Jack Finley, Gage Concalves, Alex Green, Jimmy Huntington, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh and Dmitry Semykin to the team’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse. Three other players — goaltender Spencer Martin, forward Daniel Walcott and defenseman Luke Witkowski — were placed on waivers with the intention of assigning them to Syracuse if they clear.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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