30 IN 30 TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (18th place)
Someone please keep Steven Stamkos healthy. The league desperately needs the pre-leg injury offensive force back at his 50 goal rate, now that the only player to have broken the half century mark since the 2012 lockout is Alex Ovechkin. Not only could this help the league, it would do wonders for the Lightning if they could get their sniper back for a full season. Without him the offence seemed to miss a beat from it's usual red-hot pace, leading to an early season on the links; uncharacteristic of a team with legitimate Stanley Cup hopes. Stevie Y deserves credit for keeping the core together thus far, setting a hard line with his young players and making tough trade decisions early with foresight to expansion. Although it still perplexes me that he let go of Ben Bishop in a half-price firesale to the Kings - something must have happened behind closed doors that drove his trade value into the ground. Either way, the next month could be even more eventful for the Lightning as they attempt to secure their core group well into the future.
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Stamkos (*NMC)
- Callahan (*NMC)
- Hedman (*NMC)
The day has finally come for the Lightning to lose of one of their overachieving young forwards. With expansion looming, Tampa luckily found a willing trade partner to take Valtteri Filppula's 'no movement clause' off their hands, albeit for cents on the dollar. Unfortunately the math still leaves one key forward over the lucky 7 limit. It will be interesting to see how he goes about losing his 8th forward. Finding another trade partner before the June 17th deadline will undoubtedly be his top priority. Several teams have the flexibility to take on an additional forward within their list structure, therefore searching for compensation either in the form of a draft pick, a prospect, or ideally a D-man is the route to go. However, with the expansion process pulling down the usual market value of key players, I see opposing teams low-balling the Lightning for their gluttonous depth and state of urgency. For all we know, the Golden Knights could have their eyes set on one of the Lightning D-men, but from a an outsider's perspective that seems all too unlikely.
FORWARD, FORWARD, OR FORWARD?
The decision with the Lightning will, without a doubt, come down to their group up front. Sitting at one forward over the protection limit means deciding which loss will sting the least. To expedite the process we will begin by knocking out Stamkos, Kucherov, and Callahan from the discussion, due to either a NMC or ability as a top-20 forward in the league. This still leaves us with a rather dense group to breakdown, with several elements to consider.
We will begin with most important player for the Lightning in this batch: Ondrej Palat. Displaying the most consistent rate of production, adaptability to linemates, and overall responsibility bestowed upon him through higher overall ice-time, Palat is an absolute fixture in the top-6 of the forward group. RFA status this summer, and arbitration rights still intact provide leverage in his negotiations with the organization. As priority number 1, Stevie Y should utilize a longer term contract in order to keep the cap hit down. The added benefit of playing in a market with zero state income tax should further aid the reduction in compensation. All in all, Palat is safely on our protection list.
The forward with the highest overall asset value from this lot is Jonathan Drouin. The former 3rd overall pick has game-breaking offensive ability and managed to rebound from his stint in the negative spotlight quite nicely. Statistics show a player who has been cushioned by offensive opportunity, slightly skewing his possession numbers away from his actual impact. Ice-time adjusted values (re 60 minute measures) also appear to reduce the gap between himself and others on this list, in terms of overall scoring. Regardless his skill set, former draft position, and limited exposure allow him to be the most prized commodity of the bunch to opposing General Managers. He would surely fetch a top-pair D-man in return if put on the trading block - a viable option for the Lightning. Our preference still lies in keeping him, but if Allan Walsh (his agent) treats re-negotiation anywhere close to as badly as he did with 2015-16 charade, sending Drouin away in a blockbuster deal could be necessary to avoid potentially ridiculous contract demands. Either way, protecting him while still in a Lightning uniform is without question.
Tyler Johnson, the undrafted gem will also fall inside the reach of our protection list. His statistical output has been consistent since breaking onto the scene, and he managed to generate more on-ice offensive impact than Drouin last season. Added history playing under Jon Cooper, and with this crop of young forwards since their days in the American league, make him an important cog in this team's machine. Whether he's option 1 or 1A at centre for the Lightning, his early career contributions have earned him an extension with the team. With the added bonus of his point totals decreasing right before his contract expired, Tampa should have an edge at the negotiating table. As the predictably more affordable option than Palat and Drouin, Tyler Johnson's value further increases for a team facing tough cap decisions.
The decision with the final two is where things start to get interesting. Alex Killorn has been a proven playoff performer and valuable contributor to Tampa's top-6 up front. His Corsi numbers average out around the expected 50% mark for an NHL player, while his Goal differentials ebb and flow with the team-wide totals. Offence has been expected of him, but I'm not sure he'll ever really break the 40 points/season cap. Vladislav Namestikov, on the other hand, has shown flashes of his offensive ability in his 2 years with the big club, but hasn't gotten anywhere near his point per game AHL production. With a stacked depth chart in his way, it would be interesting to see what Vlady could accomplish under a heavier workload. Many favour him as the expansion selection because traditionally Killorn's experience in a top-6 role takes precedence over Vlady's lack of it. But at half the cost and only one year left until he's an RFA with arbitration rights, to a team looking to re-sign Drouin, Johnson, Palat, Koekkoek and Sustr this summer, the flexibility his contract holds becomes even more valuable. Granted, Killorn's contract isn't terrible in a league-wide view; the Lightning may have just overcommitted with regard to term. Having a complementary forward signed on until 2023, when he'll be 34 years old, is a risk. Argument can be made that a Salary Cap rise will undoubtedly take place at least twice (if not three times) by 2023, but that sort of inflation permeates through your entire player list. Also, the Lightning need cap relief now in order to round out their roster. For that reason, under the current circumstances, Namestnikov is our last protection pick.
golden knights select
With a choice between Jason Garrison, Braydon Coburn, or Alex Killorn, Vegas will select Killorn and worry about his long term contract later. Forwards will be a tough get in the expansion draft, so selecting one with a career 0.49 points-per-game average will be an easy judgment call.
The Lightning need to follow precedent and set the boundaries of their negotiation limits early with their crop of restricted free agents. Allowing a player such as Jonathan Drouin to cripple their team's cap space will haunt this team for years to come. A solid core is in place up front, and reinforcements in the form of youngsters Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, Taylor Raddysh and Mitchell Stephens are still a few years away, so long term scope must be kept in mind when making decisions this summer.