James O'Brien

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Rangers - Game Seven

Tampa Bay’s cap situation is still pretty promising

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It’s only natural to look at some upcoming salary cap hurdles and wonder if the Tampa Bay Lightning will stumble while trying to justify all the “team of the future” talk.

Steven Stamkos will command a monster deal after next season. Victor Hedman’s $4 million bargain cap hit dries up after 2016-17. Yikes, right?

MORE: Debating Stamkos’ next contract

Actually, if you dig a little deeper, their opponents should panic instead. Just ponder these nuggets:

Note: As mentioned in the comments, the original version of this article had a mix-up regarding the Lightning’s available cap space. They’re actually closer to $1.1 million. This post has been modified with that in mind. Apologies for the error.

Almost unfair bargains

Just consider this: Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn carry a combined salary cap hit of about $10 million. Johnson and Palat are locked up at their bargain rates of $3.33 million apiece through 2016-17.

Jonathan Drouin didn’t make an impact at the NHL level, yet players of his ilk often make big jumps … and he’s just one of some impressive players Tampa Bay has in its pipeline.

Oh yeah, the Lightning also have 10 picks in the upcoming draft, even if the excess leans toward later rounds.

It almost feels like cheating, doesn’t it?

source: AP
Via AP

Evaporating deals

The flip side of that previous point is that said players will eventually get raises, but their RFA statuses could greatly reduce those worries, anyway.

Either way, relief could come in other forms. Braydon Coburn’s $4.5 million could very well be diverted into Stamkos’ bank account. Mattias Ohlund’s LTIR-bound deal ends after 2015-16. Heck, the Lightning may decide to save some cash and turn to Andrei Vasilevskiy over Ben Bishop long-term, as Bishop’s $5.95 million cap hit expires after 2016-17.

(And Bishop’s surplus could go to Hedman’s raise. Yup, GM Steve Yzerman is practicing some black magic …)

The unknown

What if the 2016-17 salary cap is a lot friendlier than what we expect from next season? Could a possible expansion help teams like the Lightning farm off less-than-friendly contracts? Yzerman may just have a deft hand in getting players to sign cheaper deals, too.

***

The Lightning aren’t necessarily on easy street – those young players and stars like Stamkos won’t be cheap – yet the team’s outlook indicates that they’ll remain a team to beat for some time.

Put on the cape: Blues GM wants more from Stastny

Minnesota Wild v St Louis Blues - Game Two
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With a $7 million cap hit, Paul Stastny is the most expensive member of the St. Louis Blues. By no means was he the most important or productive player on the roster in 2014-15, however.

The Blues didn’t have bloated expectations for Stastny heading into his first season with the team. GM Doug Armstrong noted to the Belleville News-Democrat that he didn’t expect Stastny “to come in here with a cape on and be Superman” when they signed him.

Even so, the two-way forward left something to be desired. Back in December, Ken Hitchcock “wanted him to play better.” Armstrong backed up such a stance to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, stating how much more he wants from the 29-year-old next season.

“Paul Stastny needs to be a bigger part of our group,” Armstrong said. “He’s our highest-paid player, we need him to be a bigger and better part of our team.”

Despite those sober expectations, perhaps the Blues need to be more realistic about this situation?

Managing expectations

Stastny disappointed many in Colorado, in large part because his high salary generated high expectations for big point totals. Instead, the center’s value came from combining decent production with subtly impressive possession stats.

Those “fancy stats” remained positive with St. Louis, but his point totals left something to be desired (most notably a measly goal in six playoff games). Hitchcock and Armstrong must ponder how they’re using Stastny and what they really want from him.

According to Left Wing Lock, his most common linemates were Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin. There’s nothing wrong with those forwards, and placing Stastny with that duo opens the door for St. Louis to boast impressive offensive depth. Still, if you give him a third-line-type assignment, can you complain as loudly about his production?

These aren’t the easiest questions, but the Blues needs to address situations like these if they want to “evolve.”

Report: Hynes may be front-runner for Devils job (while Boucher’s out)

Guy Boucher Getty
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The New Jersey Devils’ pursuit of a new head coach continues, and while they may once again come out and refute the latest reports, it sounds like we can cross off some names and promote another.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that John Hynes (coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) may be the current front-runner. Meanwhile, McKenzie notes that one can probably cross former Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher (pictured) off the list of possible candidates, as it appears that he’ll continue to coach in Switzerland.

That last bit of news may be a bummer to some, as many found some entertainment in hypothesizing about the source of Boucher’s Bond villain-style scar. The guy also tended to make some humorously dramatic facial expressions, as you can see from this post’s main image.

(You could also make a joke about upping the use of the 1-3-1 trap in New Jersey, if you’re into especially nerdy hockey humor.)

Hynes certainly makes sense from a familiarity standpoint, as new Devils GM Ray Shero is quite familiar with him. Beyond that, he’s enjoyed quite a bit of success in the AHL and seemed to have a good chance to nab the Penguins’ gig last summer, at least according to betting odds.

By no means is this official, but McKenzie does discuss what would happen next if the Devils do make the decision:

Report: Islanders will let prospect Russo walk

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits
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The New York Islanders won’t sign prospect Robbie Russo, instead allowing him to become a free agent, according to Newsday’s Arthur Staple.

Russo, 22, was a fourth-round pick (95th overall) in 2011. He just finished up his collegiate career at Notre Dame, where the team viewed the defenseman as a “key catalyst in the Irish attack.”

It seems like Russo is just getting lost in the shuffle, with what was not an especially impressive standing in the Islanders’ defensive prospect ratings at Hockey’s Future. Still, his numbers were solid at Notre Dame (41 points in 40 games last season), so perhaps he’ll draw some interest on the free agent market.

Timonen trade now nets Flyers two second-rounders

kimmotimonen
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Even in a different uniform, it seems like Kimmo Timonen is producing the best results for the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Score points out that the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup Final run bumps a conditional 2016 fourth-round pick involved in the Timonen trade to a second-rounder instead. The deal already included a second-round pick in 2015, so that’s a heck of a haul for the Flyers considering the fact that Timonen was teetering on the brink of retirement all season.

After the 2014-15 campaign ended for Philly, Jakub Voracek and Mark Streit lamented the 40-year’s absence, yet this is an obvious boon for Flyers management.

(Timonen hasn’t exactly been a smash success for the Blackhawks either, despite playing in most of their playoff games so far …)

GM Ron Hextall and the rest of his staff deserve some serious kudos for focusing on the draft as a route of improvement, especially since the team’s past salary cap mistakes limit their ability to make the flashy additions that once seemed like annual occurrences for the franchise.

Just look at how many of their 2015 NHL Draft selections come from other teams (via General Fanager):

source:

Stacking up draft picks diverts from the path of instant gratification, yet it could be a recipe for success, especially if Hextall’s trying to take a page from NFL coach Bill Belichick’s playbook.

It might sting to think of the past, and the present may be a little murky, but it’s refreshing to observe a Flyers GM so focused on the future.