TAMPA — During Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton’s final media availability Thursday, he was asked about how close the Hurricanes were to hoisting a Stanley Cup. He said they were right there with a Lightning team that has an unbelievable goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy and is “$18 million over the cap or whatever they are.”
The statement required a little more explaining. When asked about it, Hamilton said he made mention of the Lightning’s cap situation in reference to how talented a team they have.
“I wasn’t knocking the rules or anything,” Hamilton said. “It’s just you realize how many weapons they have and if you think about how many more players you could add with that money and stuff like that to your team, you realize how much deeper you’d be ... so that’s just how it worked out and I know it’s happened with teams in the past and stuff like that and I don’t have a problem with that. You just realize how good that team was.”
According to CapFriendly.com, the Lightning placed $17.34 million on long-term injured reserve to become cap compliant under this year’s $81.5 million. Nikita Kucherov’s hip injury, which required offseason surgery, allowed the Lightning to save $9.5 million of cap space. The Lightning also acquired contracts of injured players Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson in a trade with Ottawa.
Nine other teams used long-term injured reserve this season to become cap compliant, but none used more than $8.6 million.
The Kucherov move has drawn incredible scrutiny on social media, where some have accused the Lightning of questionable practices, saying they conveniently timed Kucherov’s recovery so that he’d only be ready in time for the postseason, when there is no cap in place.
And if Kucherov continues to play well this postseason — he leads all skaters with 18 playoff points — and if the Lightning go deeper in the playoffs, the louder the groans will be about the Lightning’s cap maneuvering.
But Hamilton, who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, insisted that wasn’t his intent. Still, his comments do give a hint that he believes the Lightning have created an uneven playing field.
“They didn’t have one of their best players all season and still had a great year and still beat us in games,” Hamilton said. “And adding a guy who hasn’t played in a year, to have him come back and be effective and really good right away is impressive as well.
“So I don’t have any knocks on that or on them as a team or what they’re doing, I think it’s just impressive to see how good they are and how much talent they have and I just have respect for all those guys. So we’ll see what happens if they can keep winning and we’ll see how we did against one of the best teams in the league.”
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