Lightning watch Alex Killorn leave for Anaheim, then restock forwards

When their attempt to retain Killorn failed, the Lightning focused on retooling their forward depth on the first day of free agency.
Capitals left wing Conor Sheary averaged 16 goals the past three seasons with Washington.
Capitals left wing Conor Sheary averaged 16 goals the past three seasons with Washington. [ PATRICK SEMANSKY | AP ]
Published July 1|Updated July 2

TAMPA — Despite trying to keep Alex Killorn until the end, the Lightning saw their top unrestricted free agent find a new home Saturday.

The beginning of NHL free agency inevitably led to the end of Killorn’s tenure with the Lightning. After spending 11 seasons in a Tampa Bay sweater, he signed a four-year, $25 million deal with the Anaheim Ducks at an average annual value of $6.25 million.

“Honestly, it was probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made in my life to leave Tampa,” Killorn said. “But looking over everything and talking to everyone I know, everyone I love, this was the right decision to make and I’m so happy I made it. It’s a little bittersweet for now, but tomorrow, everything is going to be great.”

Retaining Killorn ultimately ended up being unrealistic given Tampa Bay’s salary cap constraints. The Lightning had just $7.325 million of cap space to work with entering the day, but used it to make the necessary moves to retool their forward lines with three value deals, signing Conor Sheary, Luke Glendening and Josh Archibald, spending a cap hit of just $3.6 million for next season’s payroll to do it.

“All three of these forwards are really effective checkers who will help you protect leads, can play against the other team’s best players so it’s not always on our first and second line to get those matchups,” general manager Julien BriseBois said. “And I think that’s going to also free up some of our higher-scoring forwards from some of those defensive responsibilities, knowing that our players that will likely be in our bottom six are able to assume that role for us.”

Jonas Johansson comes to the Lightning from Denver, and he'll be the backup to Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Jonas Johansson comes to the Lightning from Denver, and he'll be the backup to Andrei Vasilevskiy. [ GENEVA HEFFERNAN | AP ]

The team also signed goaltender Jonas Johansson, to be the team’s new backup to Andrei Vasilevskiy, on a two-year deal worth a $775,000 average annual value.

Sheary, who averaged 16 goals the past three seasons playing with the Capitals, was a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017.

The 31-year-old, who had 15 goals and 22 assists with a plus-9 in 82 games with Washington last season, signed a three-year deal for a $2 million average annual value. Sheary, who likely slots into a third-line wing role, also played on both special teams units for the Capitals, scoring two power-play goals and two short-handed goals. He previously carried a $1.5 million cap hit.

Sheary said that he received interest from other teams, but the Lightning showed the most.

“I think a lot of guys in the league (had) Tampa circled just because of their success in the last 10 seasons. Just their sustained success has been always something that I wanted to be a part of,” Sheary said. “Just that feeling that they wanted you as much as I wanted them really made my decision easy.”

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“It’s always a tough game when you played these guys,” Sheary said of facing the Lightning. “They play a fast game, they can score in bunches, the top guys are always dangerous. The power play has always been dangerous. Going into Tampa, it always seemed like a battle to go in there. So I’m I’m glad to be on the other side of it now.”

Stars center Luke Glendening (11) reaches for the puck in front of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88).
Stars center Luke Glendening (11) reaches for the puck in front of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88). [ LM OTERO | AP ]

Glendening, 34, signed a two-year deal with an $800,000 average annual value. He likely will fill the team’s fourth-line center spot and top penalty-killing duties left by unrestricted free agent Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

An exemplary faceoff guy — he has a career 55.7% win percentage in the circle and a 59.7% success rate the past three seasons — Glendening spent the past two seasons in Dallas, averaging six goals and five assists and 13:10 of ice time a game. Two of his three goals last season with the Stars were short-handed. He carried a $1.5 million annual cap hit the past two seasons.

“I’m glad to be on this side of it,” said Glendening, who spent his first eight years with Detroit. “I’ve played against (the Lightning) for 10 years now. Obviously, they have a great team and I’m just trying to be a tiny part of that. ... They already have a great team and I’m just going to try to come in and help in any way I can.”

Archibald, who will be 31 when the season opens, signed a two-year deal worth an $800,000 average annual value. He likely will round out the team’s fourth line as a right wing, bringing a physical, sandpaper game. Archibald has played parts of eight NHL seasons with Pittsburgh, Arizona and Edmonton, logging 9:59 a game in 62 games with the Penguins last season. He scored six goals and six assists and was second on the team with 195 hits, playing under a $900,000 cap hit.

“I think it’ll be a good fit,” Archibald said. “Just really looking forward to getting down there bringing speed, physicality, hopefully get some chance to help out the penalty kill. I love that part of the game.”

Though they made retaining Killorn one of their top offseason priorities, the Lightning couldn’t keep the consensus top-five unrestricted free agent.

Alex Killorn carries the Stanley Cup at the conclusion of Game 5 when the Lightning defeated the Canadiens 1-0 in 2021.
Alex Killorn carries the Stanley Cup at the conclusion of Game 5 when the Lightning defeated the Canadiens 1-0 in 2021. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Killorn said discussions to stay in Tampa went “down to the wire,” adding that he decided Friday he would pursue other options.

“Alex has meant so much to our organization and has a very important place in the history of our franchise,” BriseBois said. “Tremendous, tremendous leader on the ice, in the locker room, in the community. Really happy for him. He’s getting a great opportunity in Anaheim. I know he did not necessarily want to leave ... we didn’t want to lose him but sometimes the economics of the business come into play and we just couldn’t bridge the difference.”

Johansson, 27, has just 35 NHL games under his belt, most recently going 2-0-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in three games with Colorado. He spent most of last season in the AHL, posting a 14-9-2 record, a 2.33 GAA and .920 save percentage. He will presumably be second on the Lightning’s goaltender depth chart above AHL Syracuse goaltender Hugo Alnefelt and the favorite to replace veteran Brian Elliott behind Vasilevskiy.

Going into Saturday, the Lightning had only 17 players under one-way contracts. Included in that, they had just eight forwards on one-year deals for 2023-24. Tanner Jeannot will make the ninth after receiving a qualifying offer as an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent, but his upcoming raise isn’t included in that space.

The team parted ways with bottom-six forwards Ross Colton, trading the pending restricted free agent to Colorado for a high second-round pick in the draft. The Lightning also acquired a seventh-round pick next season from Chicago for the rights to veteran Corey Perry, who then signed a one-year, $4 million with the Blackhawks.

Ian Cole signed a one-year, $3 million deal with Vancouver, but BriseBois said he didn’t expect to acquire another defenseman to replace him, going with the existing seven defensemen under contract to made up the opening night blue line.

To add additional forward depth, the Lightning also signed Logan Brown and Mitchell Chaffee to one-year, two-way contracts, each one worth $775,000 at the NHL level.

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