Don’t be surprised if the Tampa Bay Lightning attempt to flip their recently signed restricted free agents within the next year. At least that’s what the New York Post’s Larry Brooks believes will happen. He writes the long-term signings of Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are likely going to be part of a package the Lightning will eventually make for New York Islanders’ John Tavares at some point next season if the Islanders can’t sign him.
While the Islanders have said they are not trading the veteran, there is growing concern that the 26-year-old is not happy with the franchise and might be ready to move on. The Islanders’ center is coming off a 28-goal season last year with 38 assists for 66 points. While the Islanders should get credit for doing everything they can to keep one of their stars after losing former star Kyle Okposo to Buffalo for nothing, Brooks believes they will be sellers near the trade deadline to avoid another major loss. He compares the situation to Tampa Bay’s worries about losing Steven Stamkos a year ago. In that situation, the Lightning were able to lock up their star to an eight-year deal, but this isn’t the same. The Lightning were a successful franchise and were loaded with talent. That’s not really the case with the Islanders. With stadium issues and a team that has struggled off and on, it wouldn’t be surprising if Tavares was looking at better options.
The undrafted Johnson has shown quite a bit of promise over the years although his numbers have dropped in the last couple of years. The 26-year-old center put up a 29-goal season two years ago, but finished this year with 19 goals and 26 assists in 66 games. Johnson’s seven-year, $35MM deal ($5MM AAV) could keep him in New York for a long time. Palat has quite a bit of similarities to Johnson as he is 26 as well and was not expected to be a top prospect as he was just a seventh-round pick in 2011. The left wing also started strong and has taken a step back from there, putting up 23 goals in his first full season with the Lightning. He still put up solid numbers last year, scoring 17 goals and 35 assists for 52 points. His five-year, $26.5MM deal is worth $5.3MM annually.
Although Tampa Bay might even have to offer more to get a player like Tavares, the deal would also work because both Johnson and Palat have no trade clauses that will kick in next July, so if the plan may be to package them for a star player, this next year will be their best opportunity to make a deal like that happen. On top of that, moving the two of them for Tavares could be a wash, salary-wise as the Islanders star could be asking for a contract in the $10MM range next year.