Lightning may have to move Palat, not Johnson
The Tampa Bay Lightning strategy for getting under the NHL’s salary cap is all about pain management.
With the clock ticking toward the start of 2020-21 season, the defending Stanley Cup champions are almost $2 million over the $81.5 million salary cap with Eric Cernak and Anthony Cirelli still to sign.
Knowing it’s going to hurt no matter what they do to get compliant, the Lightning have apparently decided they don’t want the suffering to be long-term. Their message to potential trading partners is they won’t give up a top prospect to entice someone to take one of their heavy contracts.
What that means is that the solution to getting under the cap may not center on moving Tyler Johnson’s four-year deal with a $5 million cap, but rather Ondrej Palat’s two years with a $5 million cap hit.
It’s the fourth year that makes Johnson difficult to move. To accept that contract, teams want a top prospect like Cal Foote.
If they move Palat, it would be more of a hockey trade. Teams are more interested in Palat, not just because he only has two years left. Palat is a coveted player because he is a consistent, dependable player offensively and defensively. In 431 NHL regular-season games, he’s +131. He’s never had a minus season.
In the Lightning’s championship run, Palat netted 11 goals and totaled 18 points in the 25 games. He was +14.
Teams may part with assets to acquire Palat to play in their top six. He is capable of scoring 20, and registering 40 to 50 points.
Presuming Palat would waive his no-trade clause, Palat would fit nicely into Nashville’s second line. Wouldn’t the Blue Jackets prefer Palat over Mikael Granlund or Mike Hoffman?
Moving Palat isn’t enough to solve the Lightning’s salary cap issue. What we don’t know is whether the Lightning are already planning on Stamkos starting next season on the long-term injured reserve. That could provide some relief.
Another option Tampa Bay is considering is moving Alex Killorn who has three seasons left at $4.45 million per season. He has a modified no-trade clause. But I’m told he is easier to move than Johnson. He’s coming off a 26-goal season.
Obviously, the Lightning don’t want to move Palat, but there is logic to refusing to part with prospects. Repeating is always challenging, proven by the fact that only two franchises (Detroit, 1997 and 1998 and Pittsburgh, 2016 and 2017) have done it in the past 25 years.
If they move Palat, and Killorn, it probably doesn’t alter their chances of repeating all that much.
If they move Foote, it could impact the franchise for 10 years. They are going to need all of their best prospects if they want to stay on top. Ask the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. Plus, the Lightning may need Foote to step into the lineup this season.
Now that the Lightning have won the Stanley Cup, the general manager’s job is to set-up his team to win again and again. Tampa Bay general manager Julien BriseBois started that process by persuading Mikahil Sergachev to sign for an average of $4.8 million.
It could have been worse.
My guess is that BriseBois has a potential deal he knows he can make. He's just waiting with the hope of finding something better.
If BrisBois can pull the Lightning under the salary cap while re-signing Cernak and Cirelli to reasonable deals, giving up Palat and Killorn, and not surrendering prospects, then the Lightning will consider it a successful offseason.