Though there were certainly more exciting headlines generated by Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts column for Sportsnet—including that Carolina and Micheal Ferland are still not close on a contract extension—Tampa Bay Lightning fans likely focused in on one nugget in particular. Friedman reports that the Lightning are working to find a “new home” for Slater Koekkoek, who is currently with the Syracuse Crunch on a conditioning stint.
It’s been several years of disappointment for Koekkoek, who was selected 10th overall in 2012 as a do-it-all defenseman that could potentially grow into a nice complement behind Victor Hedman in Tampa Bay. Though his minor league career got off to a very solid start in 2014, Koekkoek has played just 85 NHL games to date and regularly found himself sitting on the bench late in games even when he was dressed. With the addition of Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev as additional left-handed options the future seems bleak for Koekkoek even if he could stay healthy.
Just finding a new home could be quite difficult. Though Koekkoek carries just an $865K cap hit this season, he’s waiver eligible and a restricted free agent with arbitration rights in the summer. Nothing he’s done so far in his NHL career has shown that he would be even worth a qualifying offer given the risk of arbitration, meaning teams aren’t going to want to give up a lot to get him. If Tampa Bay is truly set on moving him it would likely be more of a “fresh start” trade that brings back very little, a tough ending for an organization who has invested a high pick and several years of development.
There could very well be another benefit for the Lightning though, given that they currently sit just under the 50-contract limit. With 49 players under contract in the organization, they will be limited at the trade deadline and at the end of the college season. That alone could be worth moving Koekkoek, if they’ve truly decided that he’s not part of the future.