August 30, 2008
The Tampa Bay Lightning overpaid before they underpaid.
After trading for Ottawa Senators RFA defenseman Andrej Meszaros, the Lightning signed him to a six-year, $24-million contract. It's a cap hit of $4 million annually, which is right in the middle of what the Senators were offering and what the Meszaros camp wanted. It's slightly more than the combined cap hit of the players the Lightning traded ($3.8 million), but one million less than the rumored offer sheet for the defenseman.
Damian Cristodero of Lightning Strikes has the breakdown of the deal, and it's a rather shrewd one by Brian Lawton and Co.: $2.5-million next season; $3.25-million in 2009-10; $4-million in 2010-11 and 2011-12; $4.75-million in 20012-13; $5.5-million in 2013-14. After a summer as a holdout RFA, Meszaros is going to make less on base salary next season than Matt Carle ($2.95 million). That's a win for Tampa.
But getting Meszaros down to Tampa was a study in the subtle but often disastrous domino effect of hockey transactions.
The Bolts trade their draft pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for negotiating rights to Gary Roberts and Ryan Malone; the pick they'd later need to sign Meszaros to the rumored RFA contract. Minus that option, the Bolts had to broker a deal with the Senators, and thus had to overpay.
The Senators were ready to deal him -- GM Bryan Murray cited salary concerns and Meszaros's inconsistent play -- but owned the negotiating high ground. So it took defensemen Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard, and San Jose's No. 1 pick in 2009, to snag Meszaros, which is a stunning overpayment on several fronts. Hell, even Meszaros was surprised by the talent going to Ottawa.
Let's start with Picard, because Kuba was expendable. He was being pimped as a cornerstone player for this Tampa Bay defense when it was being maligned by critics earlier this summer. He's a 22-year-old difference maker with some upside. Lawton could only be honest in an interview with Lightning Strikes: "They were insistent upon him. We didn't want to trade him, quite frankly."
But the real disappointment here is in the Lightning's failure to cut salary and trim the overload of forwards on its roster, while at the same time adding Meszaros to a woefully inexperienced blueline. Lawton, in speaking to Cristodero, is borderline delusional:
"We're excited about the future, no doubt about that, but do I think this is a downgrade to be better three years down the road? No. I think this is something that's going to make our team better immediately."
Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune asks if Lightning fans are confident in the current collection of defensemen; I'd ask if confidence is even a consideration when only two players (Meszaros and Paul Ranger) have more than 200 games of NHL experience.
Changes could still be on the way, as a player like Jussi Jokinen has value and should be moved before the season starts. Hopefully any move adds a veteran body to the defense.
Stu Hackel of Slap Shot has a look at the Senators' new defense (along with some disconcerting KHL bluster). Sens Army only likes this deal if the cap savings in Ottawa are used wisely.
One last thought: If you had to put a beer on it, will Andrej Meszaros or Dan Boyle have more points at the end of this season?