The Tampa Bay Lightning have locked in another piece of their core by signing Alex Killorn to a long-term contract extension.
Killorn’s deal is for seven years and $31.1 million (an average of $4.45 million per season), according to Tim Wharnsby of CBC and Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.
As Smith mentions, the Lightning avoided arbitration with Killorn a player that general manager Steve Yzerman views as one of the team’s core pieces:
The salary cap hit is pretty fair for a secondary scorer that has been a consistent 15-goal, 40-point scorer over the past three seasons. But a seven-year contract is also an extremely lengthy commitment for a player that is about to turn 27 and has never topped 41 points in a single season.
Most scorers tend to hit their peak production between the ages of 23 and 26, so it is unlikely that Killorn will ever consistently be anything more than what he has been going forward (and that isn’t bad).
Now that Killorn’s contract is signed, the Lightning still have a little more than $8.5 million in salary cap space for the 2016-17 season according to General Fanager. They still have to sign restricted free agents Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov to new contracts this summer.
Killorn’s deal is the third major contract extension that general manager Steve Yzerman has been able to get signed this summer as he joins the massive eight-year deals that went to forward Steven Stamkos and defenseman Victor Hedman. The team also signed their goalie of the future, Andrei Vasilevskiy, to a three-year extension.
Even with all of those signings they should still have the salary cap space to keep together a roster that has become one of the best in the league, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the past two seasons. They were in the Stanley Cup Final two years ago and lost Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins this past season.
The issue for the Lightning under the salary cap is probably going to come next summer when they will have to worry about Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin, all of whom will be eligible for restricted free agency and will be looking at significant raises over their current salaries.
The Lightning will likely get some cap relief after this season when goalie Ben Bishop‘s $5.9 million salary cap hit comes off the books if he leaves as a free agent. When you consider that the team seems committed to Vasilevskiy as its goalie of the future, it seems likely that he will in fact leave. But even with Bishop’s contract opening up some space the Lightning still have more than $51 million in cap space committed to 12 players for the 2017-18 season. That cap number also includes more than $1 million that will be going to Matt Carle following his recent buyout. The ideal fix would probably be to find a way to trade a veteran forward like Ryan Callahan or Valtteri Filppula, or perhaps even a Jason Garrison or Braydon Coburn off of the blue line.
Either way, somebody else is going to have to go at some point.
As the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins have shown in the salary cap era, it is absolutely worth keeping the top-line players and paying them their market value even if it means subtracting some secondary pieces on the roster. Given their commitments to Stamkos and Hedman, the Lightning are clearly following the same path. It just seemed that a player like Killorn, more of a secondary player behind the likes of Stamkos, Kucherov, Johnson and Palat, might be one of the players that ended up being the odd man out.
Yzerman and the Lightning front office obviously disagree and see him as a core piece.