When you win the Stanley Cup in the NHL, it usually comes at a cost. The core of your team is often broken up immediately afterward thanks to the salary cap system, or depth players are sacrificed to try and pay the next wave of talent. That’s exactly what is happening in Tampa Bay, where the Lightning are being forced to make tough decisions on some of their veteran players.
Tyler Johnson, an excellent soldier for the team over the last decade, is one of the names most likely to be traded in the coming days, even despite the full no-trade clause he holds. Darren Dreger of TSN reports that Johnson has given the Lightning several teams that he would accept a trade to and that there is a good amount of communication between GM Julien BriseBois and the player’s camp.
Johnson, 30, has four years left on his current contract and carries a $5MM cap hit. The versatile forward has seen his role in the Tampa Bay offense diminish over recent years and averaged just 14:33 a night this season. That’s not to say his skills have disappeared though. Remember, Johnson once tied for the team lead in scoring with 72 points in a single season and in 2018-19 he scored 29 goals. That $5MM price tag might be too expensive for the Lightning in his current role, but he could still be a useful player around the league.
Of course, if the Lightning had a choice, they would probably simply keep Johnson in the fold. But after winning a Stanley Cup they are in a very tight salary cap situation with more than $76MM committed for just 15 players. One of the biggest causes of that salary squeeze is Andrei Vasilevskiy’s new extension, which kicks in for the 2020-21 season and sees his cap hit jump from a reasonable $3.5MM to a whopping $9.5MM. The 2019 Vezina winner is certainly worth his big ticket, but extensions like that make it difficult to keep the depth over the rest of the roster.
The Lightning also have Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev and others to re-sign as restricted free agents this offseason, a group that could take up more than $10MM even on simple bridge deals. Moving money out is imperative for BriseBois and it looks like it will start with Johnson.