TAMPA — Saturday’s signing of forward Tanner Jeannot, the team’s only remaining restricted free agent, to a two-year contract essentially ended the Lightning’s roster retooling.
The team is just under the $83.5 million salary cap, with 22 players on NHL deals. That doesn’t include defenseman Darren Raddysh, who is currently on a two-way deal but will almost certainly make the opening night roster.
General manager Julien BriseBois is always looking to upgrade, but he’d have to unload a player to create cap space. That’s not entirely impossible, but at this point in the free agency season, this is the roster we should expect going into training camp in September.
The Lightning have had to part ways with several key pieces — Alex Killorn, Ross Colton Pat Maroon and Corey Perry among them — and BriseBois brought their replacements in with a focus on becoming faster and better defensively. Now that the roster for the upcoming season appears to be complete, what do we make of it?
Where does Conor Sheary fit in?
Among the Lightning’s free-agency additions, the 31-year-old Sheary figures to make the biggest impact among the newcomers. He averaged 16 goals a year in his past three seasons in Washington. The Lightning had to go bargain shopping in free agency and Sheary — signed to a three-year, $2 million average annual value contract — is the only newcomer making more than a $1 million annually and the only one to get a deal of more than two years.
Sheary can play across any of the top three lines; in Washington, he shared a line with Alex Ovechkin. Last season, he assisted on seven of Ovechkin’s goals. As part of Pittsburgh teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups, Sheary played with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Not every player can excel skating with elite talent, and Sheary could get a look with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov on the Lightning’s top scoring line. Brandon Hagel showed he could mesh with Point and Kucherov, but he might be better used alongside Anthony Cirelli on the two-way line.
Sheary can player on either wing, and his defense and forechecking can fit all over. His flexibility to play in different spots will be beneficial to the Lightning as Jon Cooper finds the right fit, especially after losing a top-six forward in Killorn.
How important is a full season of Tanner Jeannot?
The departure of Killorn and Maroon puts a lot of pressure on Tanner Jeannot as he enters his first full season in a Tampa Bay uniform. The Lightning would love to see him regain the 24-goal form of his rookie season two years ago. That would help them replace Killorn’s offensive output, and they’ll also need him play the role of the team’s primary enforcer with Maroon gone.
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It took Jeannot some time to find his footing with the Lightning, and he was just starting to look comfortable when he was injured late in the regular season. It will be important for him to get off to a quick start this season. He had 17 goals in his first 51 games during his rookie season. He is a guy who will do most of his damage offensively in front of the net, and the big difference in his scoring dropoff was his shooting percentage falling from 19.4 to 5.6.
No matter where he plays in the middle six, he should get plenty of opportunities to score. He could even see power-play time with the Lightning needing to replace Killorn’s presence in front, but he’ll have to convert more to make the difference the Lightning want.
If he does slot into a third-line role, he will pair with Nick Paul, who was on pace for a 31-goal season before he ended with just one goal and a 2.2 shooting percentage in his last 38 regular-season games. They both can’t be that streaky.
How will the blue line look?
Whether the Lightning’s defenseman corps is better next season remains to be seen, but there’s definitely more options than this time last year. That means there will be more competition for third pairing minutes.
The departure of Ian Cole, who was a stabilizing veteran but led the team in penalties, left the Lightning with just three left-shot defensemen. The signing of Calvin de Haan gives them a fourth and he will compete with Haydn Fleury for third pairing minutes.
Keep in mind that last year’s opening night roster didn’t include right-shot defensemen Zach Bogosian, who was injured, or Nick Perbix or Darren Raddysh, who opened the season at AHL Syracuse. All three will be in the fold going into this season along with top right-shot defenseman Erik Cernak.
It will be interesting to see what happens with right-shot defenseman Philippe Myers, the forgotten front piece of the Ryan McDonagh trade. BriseBois spoke glowingly of him at the end of last season, and he carries a $1.4 million cap hit. He was an emergency option for the Lightning late in the playoffs, but spent the entire season in Syracuse after he was demoted in early December.
Mikhail Sergachev took a huge step forward in his offensive game with career highs in assists (54) and points (64) while assuming a new role on the first power-play unit, but he knows he still has work to do as he enters the first year of an eight-year, $68 million extension.
Do the Lightning have better depth at forward?
With the signings of Sheary, Luke Glendening and Josh Archibald, the Lightning have 12 forwards on one-way NHL contracts, but added Logan Brown and Mitchell Chaffee on two-way contracts. BriseBois said both will have the opportunity to “steal a job” in training camp. The Lightning still don’t know where Alex Barre-Boulet fits after another season of putting up numbers in the AHL with a career-high 84 points. As of now, he’s the team’s 12th forward on an NHL deal and would have to clear waivers again if he doesn’t make the opening roster.
Brown and Chafee will also compete for a forward spot along with Cole Koepke and Gabriel Fortier, both of whom saw time in Tampa last season, and prospects Gage Goncalves, Lucas Edmonds and international signee Waltteri Merela will be knocking on the door.
Brown is intriguing. At 6-foot-6, 218 pounds, he has size you can’t teach. He has first-round pedigree and 99 games of NHL experience, and while his scoring numbers haven’t duplicated his juniors and AHL success, he can earn a bottom-six job by playing a heavy game.
How much will goaltender Jonas Johansson play?
The biggest revelation that emerged from the Lightning’s playoff postmortem was Andrei Vasilevskiy’s admission that he felt out of whack from the midseason mark. In signing Johansson to be Vasilevskiy’s backup, the Lightning were delighted to pick up a young goaltender they feel has untapped potential for the league minimum of $775,000.
Johansson is 27 and has great size (6-5, 220 pounds), and the club hopes he might be able help Vasilevskiy carry the load with more consistency than departed 38-year-old Brian Elliott, who certainly played better than his numbers showed early, but saw his game really fade down the stretch.
Johansson has never really gotten a chance at the NHL level, playing no more than 15 games in any of his four seasons. But he put up good numbers in his last stop in Colorado (10-3-2, .901 save percentage, 2.78 goals against average over parts of two seasons) and had a .920 save percentage and 2.33 GAA last season in the AHL.
If he can provide anything comparable to those numbers while giving Vasilevskiy — who has averaged 73 games (including the playoffs) the past four years — some added rest, this might be the team’s best bargain signing. He will get the opportunity to show his value.
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