What We Learned: Steve Yzerman's general mismanagement of Lightning

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(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

It’s not totally clear what Nikita Kucherov is asking for from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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What is clear is that unless he wants the moon, he’s probably worth it.

He’s one of only 23 players to score 130-plus points over the last two seasons, clearing 65 both times, and everyone above him is a stone-cold All-Star. He’s also a substantially positive possession player both overall and relative to what his team does when he’s off the ice.

You pay the guy. Think that’s pretty clear to everyone.

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But Steve Yzerman seems to have contracted what you might call “Stan Bowman Disease” in that he has too many good players on fairly reasonable contracts, and a few bad deals lying around which limit his cap flexibility. Right now General Fanager has the Bolts with nearly $5.9 million in cap space, which is honestly something along the lines of “just about right” for what Kucherov should be seeking. If you want to call his value $6 million on a six-year deal, I think all involved would call that good.

But of course you can’t exceed the cap entering the season, and even if you could you wouldn’t want that kind of limitations on your future flexibility. It is therefore vital to examine both why the Lightning are in this fix, and why a patchwork deal shouldn’t be something for them to pursue.

The “how they got here” of it is pretty easy to figure out: Yzerman gave Ryan Callahan an awful contract a few years ago $5.8 million AAV through his age-34 season four seasons from now. Yzerman also gave Alex Killorn a not-very-good contract just this summer: $4.45 million AAV for five seven years in what has to be the most transparent of several “Please, Las Vegas, take this deal from us” contracts in the world. Another $3.7 million to Braydon Coburn for the next three seasons isn’t helping the cause. Neither is Yzerman’s failure to trade Ben Bishop ($5.85 million for one more year). Nor are the Matt Carle buyout ($1.83 million in dead cap space for four more years) or this past season’s overage of $314,168.

Like a lot of teams, there are several contracts here that Yzerman would probably burn a compliance buyout on if given half a chance. A few more are “okay” but not ideal ($5 million for Val Filppula, $4.6 million for Jason Garrison).

And that’s how you end up maxing out your cap space, gang. Pretty simple.

But Yzerman couldn’t let Steven Stamkos walk. Not at the sweetheart hometown discount Stamkos took to stay with a Cup contender. And frankly, the number of extremely favorable deals Yzerman previously negotiated is worth congratulating here: $3.33 million for Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, $2 million for Brian Boyle, $4.5 million for Anton Stralman, and $4 million for Victor Hedman. That’s masterful cap management even if there are deficiencies elsewhere on the roster (and, again, there are).

The real problem for Tampa, though, isn’t what to pay Kucherov now just to get him under contract. It’s the fact that half the damn team is going to want raises — and often substantial ones — next summer.

Bolts whose contracts are up after this year: Johnson, Palat, Jonathan Drouin, Andrej Sustr and Nikita Nesterov. Ben Bishop, too, but one assumes they’re going to trade him at some point this year or let him walk in July rather than give him $7 million-plus. In addition, Victor Hedman’s huge raise ($7.875 million) kicks in, as does Andrei Vasilievskiy’s $3.5 million.

For the 2017-18 season, Tampa is already on the hook for more than $55 million, and it’s owed to just 13 guys, with more big contracts expected.

So that’s why Kucherov doesn’t have a deal yet: Yzerman really can’t bump his cap obligations for this year or next up any higher than he has, in putting together arguably the best roster in the NHL.

(On that note, who’s in the same ballpark as Tampa: Nashville? Pittsburgh? San Jose? Is there really anyone else even close?)

But again, how do you wriggle out of this mess? One or more of the Triplets simply has to go, right? You can’t keep all of Kucherov, Palat, and Johnson unless you con someone into taking some pretty rotten contracts. And even then, maybe that’s the end of the line for one of them. I wouldn’t want to have to choose. If you give Kucherov something in the neighborhood of $5.5-6 million, the other two have to land there as well. And what of Drouin, who seems poised for a monster year? What about the other seven roster spots you have to fill with potentially as little as $12 million in cap space?

Something has to give here, and that’s why the Stan Bowman issue looms so large. Yzerman has to be able to rejigger his team on the fly without losing its Cup-competitive quality. Not easy, especially because this group hasn’t actually won anything yet, having been bounced in the Cup Final and Conference Finals.

The good news here, if there is any, is that Yzerman might be able to leverage the “Stamkos took less to stay competitive, but it’s not actually less at all because you don’t pay state income tax here” thing. If you can draw a line between what Tampa can pay you, and what a Mystery Team would have to provide to get the same take-home pay, and that’s a pretty good way to wriggle out of, say, $6 million in potential obligations to all these as-yet-unsigned players. And that’s not nothing.

But in the end this is an object lesson in not paying for grit, if you want to get right down to it. Callahan and Killorn both fit that bill and currently take up a combined $10.25 million on Tampa’s cap. They have other elements to their games, of course (Killorn is a reliable 40-point guy for now), but asked to describe what they bring to the table in one word, you’d probably land somewhere around “jam.”

If guys provide “jam” in addition to more tangibly useful aspects of the game, that’s great. Maybe it adds $500,000 to their AAVs. Great, fine. But don’t pay for jam. And really, the takeaway here ought to be: Don’t overpay for it. Because then you can’t sign Kucherov or Johnson or Palat or Drouin.

And at that point, you probably also can’t be as competitive as you should be.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Randy Carlyle already has ’em playing Gritty. And by November, we’ll realize he also has them playing a style that rhymes with Gritty.

Arizona Coyotes: Now Toby Rieder just wants out. Wild stuff.

Boston Bruins: Finally, the Bruins have a German defenseman who isn’t very good!

Buffalo Sabres: Seems weird that Rasmus Ristolainen is practicing with the Sabres even though he’s out of contract.

Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk is having a good preseason for the Flames so you know they’re going to keep him the full 82 even though he won’t make them meaningfully competitive and it’ll unduly burn a year of his ELC a la Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan.

Carolina Hurricanes: If nothing else, Valentin Zykov brings to the table one of the best names in the league.

Chicago: The “anything” part here should be telling.

Colorado Avalanche: I think we can count Gabe Landeskog in the “Didn’t like Patrick Roy” camp.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Whoa whoa whoa, speed on defense? Does speed help you block shots, Werenski? Get back to work!

Dallas Stars: This is a wizard’s curse, right?

Detroit Red Wings: Robbie Russo is an intriguing prospect, I guess, but this is just further evidence that Detroit is probably going to be quite bad this year.

Edmonton Oilers: Given how good Leon Draisaitl looked for Team Europe, one assumes Peter Chiarelli is working out trade scenarios. Because Drake Caggiula is apparently good enough to push for his job or something? Yikes, man, I dunno.

Florida Panthers: This says the Panthers released Bo Horvat from a PTO. It was actually Ryan Horvat. They’re not even related!

Las Vegas No-Names: This team, whatever it ends up being called, might be able to make trades before it even has any players on the roster. They should trade their lottery pick to your favorite team!

Los Angeles Kings: Legit, what do you think are the odds Devin Setoguchi actually makes this team? Slim, right?

Minnesota Wild: The excuse-making is starting early in Minnesota.

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GettyImages-523603412

Montreal Canadiens: Andrew Shaw only getting three preseason games for that hit is a joke. He’s trash.

Nashville Predators: My nice friend is already at it again!

New Jersey Devils: The Devils sure do go through a lot of defensemen.

New York Islanders: Everyone likes the Islanders’ kids. Which is good because they need a lot of help to get back to where they were last year.

New York Rangers: Hey, figure it out, JT Miller!

Ottawa Senators: “Senators lose” you say? I’d get used to hearing a lot of that this season.

Philadelphia Flyers: Yeah both these kids are going to make the team. And really, they should.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Getting in under the wire before they’d have to meet President Trump, eh? Libturd cowards!

San Jose Sharks: Timo Meier out for a month with mono. Better than the mumps!

St. Louis Blues: If you’re worried about finding a spot for Rob Bortuzzo, that’s actually a good thing because Rob Bortuzzo isn’t that good.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Tampa wants to add some depth scoring? I heard about this unsigned Russian RFA who’s supposed to be pretty good!

Toronto Maple Leafs: Honestly, I was gonna make a joke about Leafs optimism but they have a lot of reason for it, so good work everyone.

Vancouver Canucks: Gnashing teeth over a prospect with six games and no points who even got a game with the Sedins last year? Sounds good!

Washington Capitals: Amazing that no one in Washington thought of the “using playoff disappointment as a motivator for the next season” before.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are honestly pretty good and if they’re smart about goaltending they’ll be a borderline playoff team in the toughest division in hockey. But they won’t be smart about goaltending.

Play of the Weekend

Taylor Hall rules.

Gold Star Award

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GettyImages-520666068 (1)

College hockey started this weekend ahhhhh yes.

Minus of the Weekend

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GettyImages-611422560

Hockey is so close! I can’t be mad about anything!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “TMLeafs18” really want to make the Predators unbeatable.

Nashville – Pekka Rinne, Ryan Ellis, Kevin Fiala

New Jersey – Cory Schneider, Jon Merrill

Signoff

Hey! Joey JoJo!

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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