We are now less than a week away from the NHL Trade Deadline and talks are heating up. Where does each team stand and what moves should they be looking to make? We continue our look around the league with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning needed to look for a new challenge this season after stomping the competition in the 2020 postseason. They decided that if the league’s teams weren’t good enough to beat them, they would just take on the league itself. This season, the Lightning have stretched the NHL’s hard salary cap to it’s limit. Some might even throw the word “circumvention” out there. Tampa has managed to hold on to it’s extremely talented and fairly compensated roster due almost entirely due to the timely injury of Nikita Kucherov and the acquisitions of other injured players Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson. The Bolts have over $17MM in salary on Long-Term Injured Reserve – and they’ve used up all but $370,500 of it. There is zero space for the Lightning to do anything at the trade deadline beyond a minor depth addition, but they will get a major boost in the postseason with the return of Kucherov. Barring another opportunistic injury or a hockey trade that no one sees coming, the Bolts may have to settle for that this season.
26-11-2, .692, 3rd in Central Division
Deadline Cap Space
$0MM in full-season space ($371K in LTIR space), 0/3 retention slots used, 45/50 contracts used per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2021: TBL 1st, TBL 3rd, TBL 4th, TBL 5th, TBL 6th, NJD 7th, NSH 7th, TBL 7th
2022: TBL 1st, TBL 3rd, TBL 4th, TBL 5th, TBL 6th, TBL 7th
There is a difference between what the Lightning could offer and what they will offer, given that they are in no position to make much of a trade. It is unlikely that the team is going to move any of their roster players to open up space, so even though pieces like Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn may seem expendable, it is hard to imagine the team trading them in-season as opposed to waiting for the off-season.
As a result, Tampa has little space to work with and that means their targets will not be high-priced pieces. The most likely result for the Bolts is that they add a cheap depth piece in exchange for a late pick or low-end prospect. Those are the “chips” that will probably move, if there is any move at all.
In the event that Tampa tries to make a bigger move, using the very limit of their salary cap potential despite the risks, they will still be looking at a picks-and-prospects scenario in this buyer’s market. Without a second-round pick for the next two years, the Lightning’s first-rounders are probably off the table unless they are asking a team to give up one of the top rentals on the market and retain the maximum 50% of his salary in order to make the deal work under the cap. The likelihood of such a deal is low. Expect for them instead to dangle multiple mid-round picks and prospects like Jack Finley or Jack Thompson if they really want to make a splash.
1) Defense – If, and it’s a big if, the Lightning are able to find a way to clear enough cap space to add a player of note at the deadline, it has to be on the blue line. The forward corps is deep and talented and will only get better once the postseason arrives and Kucherov can return. The net is well-manned, with Andrei Vasilevskiy enjoying another Vezina-caliber season. Both of those units remain largely unchanged from last season’s title-winning lineup. However, the defense has taken a hit. The top four is still stout, but the bottom pair and depth options range from young and inexperienced to old and ineffective. Tampa could really use a stabilizing force on the back end, especially with Jan Rutta sidelined and Erik Cernak dealing with a nagging injury. Of course, cost will be a factor. Without making a trade to move out salary, the Bolts can only open up another $1.5MM max and still be able to ice a full lineup, demoting the likes of Luke Schenn and Ben Thomas. That leaves the Bolts with a maximum $1.9MM or so to acquire a defenseman, but adding that much salary is a risk should another injury occur. The need is there, but the means to address it are problematic. The team likely thinks small with a value addition.