The Tampa Bay Lightning face a series of difficult questions this off-season, with superstar Steven Stamkos potentially scary journey to restricted free agency being the biggest worry among many other concerns. GM Steve Yzerman answered at least one of those questions today by re-signing veteran defenseman Eric Brewer to a hefty four-year contract worth a little less than $16 million.
That (approximate) $4 million annual salary cap hit is a slight decrease from his previous contract, which was a four-year, $17 million deal.
Honestly, my first reaction was to cringe. Brewer is 32-years-old and many considered him “done” when he was traded to the Lightning. Brewer played 76 out of 82 games between his time with the Lightning and St. Louis Blues in 2010-11 but fought off very troubling injury concerns before his contract year. He missed 23 games in 09-10 and 54 in 08-09, making this four-year commitment a significant risk.
That being said, Brewer earned the trust of the Lightning coaching staff during the 2011 playoffs. He averaged 25:37 minutes of ice time per game in 18 playoff contests, far and away the most of any Tampa Bay player (Victor Hedman came in second with 22:16). Brewer scored one goal and racked up six assists for seven points in 18 postseason games, but it was his sturdy defense that helped propel the Lightning within one win of the Stanley Cup finals.
I expected Brewer to take a bigger pay cut, but his huge playoff role ended up being a great bargaining chip. This deal could be fine – perhaps even great – if Brewer replicates his 2011 playoff results for a few seasons. On the other hand, this could be Yzerman’s first bad contract as the Lightning GM if Brewer battles injuries and the natural struggles that come with aging. The price wasn’t really out of order considering his role with the team but the four-year term remains unsettling.
The Brewer deal should leave Tampa Bay with about $23.3 million in cap space to work with this summer, so it’ll be interesting to see if Yzerman can solve this team’s many riddles.