Advertisement

Lightning are less fun without Killorn and Maroon, but they’re not dead yet

John Romano | Tampa Bay signs a handful of cheap forwards who could make them quicker, deeper and maybe a little better defensively than last season.
The Lightning and Alex Killorn parted ways on Saturday, the first day of free agency, after 11 seasons together.
The Lightning and Alex Killorn parted ways on Saturday, the first day of free agency, after 11 seasons together. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published July 2|Updated July 3

TAMPA — Remember this:

The Lightning did not become great until they got tough. Until they got smart. The Lightning did not go on their three-year stretch of near-total domination until they learned that preventing goals was the difference between a season ending too soon and having a floating victory parade.

That’s what this weekend’s comings and goings were all about.

The Lightning sacrificed continuity, popularity and goal scoring in the hope of getting just a little bit harder. Maybe it wasn’t the optimal set of moves, but it was probably the best they could hope for considering their contentious relationship with the salary cap.

Saying goodbye to Alex Killorn and Pat Maroon is heartbreaking. No sense arguing that. Maroon, while not a major cog on the ice, was a fan favorite for his passion and wit. Killorn, on the other hand, was a vital part of the Lightning roster. He not only played an important role on the ice, but he was adored in the community and respected in the locker room.

The only thing worse than losing Killorn would have been giving him the four-year, $25 million contract he got from Anaheim on Saturday.

I’m not saying Killorn isn’t worth the money, although it seems a little pricey for a player about to turn 34. But signing Killorn to a contract of that size would have precluded nearly every other move the Lightning made, and probably would have meant trading another key part to free up cap space.

Luke Glendening, who comes to the Lightning from Dallas, should help Tampa Bay on the penalty kill.
Luke Glendening, who comes to the Lightning from Dallas, should help Tampa Bay on the penalty kill. [ TONY GUTIERREZ | AP ]

“(We) couldn’t come up with a scenario where we could come up with a contract acceptable to him and that would allow us to keep the other players we want to keep and be able to have a competitive roster for the future,” general manager Julien BriseBois said.

The Lightning have long had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to star players. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy. These are name-in-the-spotlight types of talent.

But the stars would be impotent without the role players who can score 15-25 goals, get some takeaways and provide minutes on the penalty kill. That was Killorn. That was Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde. That was Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.

The Lightning still have Anthony Cirelli, Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul, but the stable has gotten a little thin. So the idea behind signing Conor Sheary, Luke Glendening and Josh Archibald was finding guys who are aggressive on the forecheck and can play on the penalty kill. Sheary is the only one in the bunch with a 20-goal season — and that was seven years ago — but their value is in their ability to keep the puck out of the net.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Point, Kucherov, Stamkos and Hagel are your proven 30-goal scorers. The Lightning aren’t hurting in that department. Where Tampa Bay needed help was holding opponents to two goals or fewer on most nights. After four consecutive seasons of finishing fifth, ninth, sixth and sixth in goals allowed, the Lightning slipped to No. 14 last season.

That’s where Sheary, Glendening and Archibald will fit in. These aren’t kids they have signed. All three are in their 30s, but they’re mostly younger and, presumably, faster than Killorn, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Corey Perry, who all left for more money elsewhere.

Josh Archibald, who comes to the Lightning from the Penguins, should add speed and physicality to the lineup.
Josh Archibald, who comes to the Lightning from the Penguins, should add speed and physicality to the lineup. [ FRANK FRANKLIN II | AP ]

“Kind of fits the identity we want to play with,” BriseBois said. “Where we’re playing with pace, we’re aggressively and relentlessly forechecking, creating turnovers and generating offense off those turnovers.”

None of this is a suggestion that Killorn wasn’t tough to play against. He had size, he had grit, and he grew into one of Tampa Bay’s top penalty killers. But his value had grown with his increased scoring in recent seasons, and that made him too expensive on a roster that already has a half-dozen players making roughly $8 million a year or more.

If you look at it this way, the Lightning swapped Killorn, Maroon, Perry, Bellemare, Ian Cole and Ross Colton for Sheary, Glendening, Archibald and defenseman Calvin de Haan. Those four skaters signed by the Lightning will count $4.375 million against the salary cap versus the $14.25 million that Killorn, Maroon, Perry and Cole will make. That doesn’t even include Colton, who is expected to get somewhere in the $3.3 million range, and Bellemare.

Common sense says the Lightning lost commodities that were far more valuable than what they brought in, and it’s hard to argue that point. But the more nuanced question is whether the players brought in by the Lightning were a better fit for their current roster.

Either way, this is the reality the Lightning are living with in the salary cap world. They no longer intimidate opponents before stepping on the ice. They will no longer be the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup final.

But the moves they made this weekend at least give the Lightning a chance to be tough enough and deep enough to be part of the conversation.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

• • •

Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.

Never miss out on the latest with your favorite Tampa Bay sports teams. Follow our coverage on Twitter and Facebook.