Free agency is now less than a day from opening up and there are quite a few prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. Here is a breakdown of Tampa Bay’s free agent situation.
Key Restricted Free Agent: F Cedric Paquette — Nine points hardly seems like a lot of points for key restricted free agent, but the 24-year-old Paquette isn’t about offense. The defense-first forward has been a key part of the team’s bottom-six line, which included Ryan Callahan and Kunitz line that was constantly put against opponents’ top lines. Now that he’s been qualified, Paquette, who scored just five goals during the regular season (and one in the playoffs) might be more needed than ever with Kunitz likely headed elsehere. Regardless, he could be in line for a significant raise after making $812K last year on his two-year bridge deal. Now with arbitration rights, he could walk away with quite a bit more.
D Slater Koekkoek — The 24-year-old blueliner has worked hard to try and break into the deep defensive core of Tampa Bay and did manage to get into 34 games last season and avoid a trip down to the Syracuse Crunch, but Koekkoek’s usefulness came to an end after Tampa Bay acquired Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline. From that point on, he appeared in just three regular season games and did not appear in the playoffs. While the team intends to bring him back, recent rumors that the team might consider trading the youngster are also a possibility. He made $800K last year on a one-year deal.
Other RFA’s: F Adam Erne.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: Andrej Sustr — The 27-year-old depth defender could easily find himself on a new team with the amount of defenders under contract in Tampa Bay. The blueliner had been a regular on the Lightning’s defense over the past three years, but he found himself often a healthy scratch with the addition of players like Mikhail Sergachev, Jake Dotchin, Koekkoek as well as McDonagh. After making $1.95MM last season in the last of his restricted free agent years, the team must decide if they want to bring back the undrafted free agent they signed back in 2013.
Chris Kunitz — The 38-year-old winger was a big part of the Lightning’s shutdown line along with Callahan and Paquette in his one year with Tampa Bay, but there is little indication that Kunitz is expected return. Despite a productive season in which he tallied 13 goals and 29 points last season, rumors suggest he’s interested in a possible return to Pittsburgh.
Projected Cap Space: The Lightning don’t have much cap space to work with this offseason as the team has just $5.3MM. On top of that, Tampa Bay has quite a few free agents they must deal with next year including Nikita Kucherov, McDonagh and Yanni Gourde to name a few, so they need to have as much cap room to maneuver with as possible. Despite their interest in John Tavares, don’t expect the team to dip heavily in the free agent market this year and more likely depend on their AHL depth to carry them through.