This is not the position the Tampa Bay Lightning were supposed to be in this season.
After reaching the Stanley Cup Final two years ago, and then coming within a Game 7 (a one goal loss) of reaching them again, the Lightning entered this season as one of the top favorites to win the Stanley Cup. More than halfway through the season, and just one month away from the NHL trade deadline, the Lightning currently find themselves six points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 32 games to play. When it comes to overcoming that deficit, history is not on their side, especially with four teams sitting between them and a playoff spot (several of which have multiple games in hand on them). Basically, it’s crunch time for them.
Given that spot in the standings it creates quite a dilemma for general manager Steve Yzerman and how he should handle the NHL trade deadline.
This is still an extremely talented roster, one that has been one of the top three or four teams in the league over the past two seasons. For as disappointing as this injury-plagued, offensively starved season has been, this is still a team that should have a foundation in place to compete for a Stanley Cup again in the very near future.
But even if the Lightning are expected to get Steven Stamkos back in the lineup at some point before the end of this season, it still might end up being too little, too late to make any kind of a significant difference. The damage this season has already been done in the standings, so it is probably not a year in which Yzerman is going to be tempted to give up future assets to add something to a roster that is probably going to miss the playoffs anyway.
But would they be willing to become sellers if the team doesn’t close any ground in the playoff race over the next couple of weeks? Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times wrote this past week that the recent trade of defenseman Nikita Nesterov to the Montreal Canadiens could be just the start of their moves this season.
First, you have Ben Bishop, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, sitting out there as an obvious trade chip. He is having a down year (probably his worst since joining the Lightning organization) and they already have his long-term replacement (Andrei Vasilevskiy) in place and signed for the next few years on a very team and cap friendly contract. For as much as Bishop has struggled this season they almost certainly do not want to lose him for nothing after the season and you have to think he would be an immediate upgrade for somebody like, say, the St. Louis Blues, an otherwise good team that is getting crushing right now by its goaltending.
But once you get beyond him, the Lightning are looking at a potential salary cap crunch this offseason when Victor Hedman‘s new contract kicks in and Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov head into year two of their current deals.
At the moment Tampa Bay already has close to $60 million in salary cap space committed to just 13 players for next season (via CapFriendly). Without knowing exactly how much the salary cap is expected to rise that probably only leaves them with about $13-16 million (depending on what the salary cap looks like next season) to fill out the remainder of the roster.
Even though Johnson and Palat have had down years offensively, they are all players that the Lightning would almost certainly love to keep, but they are also certain to get raises. If all three are re-signed that will take up a significant portion of their remaining cap space.
The Lightning are also going to have to do something to address what has been a season-long need on defense. Doing that, while also keeping the aforementioned trio of restricted free agents is going to be a tall task for Yzerman and his staff.
At some point, whether it is before the trade deadline or in the offseason the Lightning are going to have to part ways with somebody on the roster to make all of that happen.
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at email@example.com.
• The NHLPA’s Executive Board has approved the tentative Return to Play and Collective Bargaining Agreement. Now things move to the full union membership vote for ratification. Voting, which is by secret, electronic ballot, begins Wednesday and will end Friday. [NHLPA]
• Inside the NHL bubble: testing, what could cause postponement [PHT]
• Justin Williams on coming back to the Hurricanes for one last run: “I didn’t come back to play 20 games. I came back for a chance to win a Stanley Cup.” [News and Observer]
• “Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr found sensible solutions to shared problems without resorting to any of the hostility or grandstanding these negotiations are typically known for. They and their respective leadership teams started meeting out of the spotlight last summer before recalibrating on the fly and piecing together the framework for this agreement amid a health crisis that poses a significant threat to their industry and many others.” [Sportsnet]
• These X-factors will shape the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. [ESPN]
• “Lawyers for the NHL Players’ Association are scheduled to appear by video conference before an Ontario judge Tuesday in an effort to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a former union employee who alleges the NHLPA covered up a theft of more than $100,000 in union funds by one of its executives.” [TSN]
International Ice Hockey Federation chief Rene Fasel is encouraged after learning the NHL’s pending labor deal opens the possibility of the world’s best players returning to the Olympics.
Aside from the uncertainty raised by the coronavirus pandemic, Fasel told The Associated Press he doesn’t foresee any major stumbling blocks that could derail negotiations leading up to the 2022 Beijing Games.
“No, I don’t think there’s a deal-breaker,” he said Tuesday. “There are a lot of challenges. But I think in principle, I would say the news that that’s in the CBA, for me and especially international hockey, is very good news.”
Fasel spoke a day after the NHL and NHL Players’ Association tentatively agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement for four years, which would run through the 2025-26 season.
A person with direct knowledge of the agreement told the AP it includes a provision that would allow NHL players to compete at the next two Winter Games, including the 2026 Olympics in Italy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the contents of the CBA were not released.
The league participated in five consecutive Olympics before skipping the 2018 Games in South Korea.
In order to return, the NHL and its players would first have to resolve various outstanding issues — including health insurance, travel costs and marketing rights — with the IIHF and the International Olympic Committee.
Travel costs alone to Pyeongchang two years ago were projected to be $15 million, which the IOC refused to pay. The NHL was also denied control of using Olympic game footage to promote the league and players. Another concern was weighing the benefits of shutting down the regular season for two weeks only to have Olympic games being played in the early morning hours in North America due to the 14-hour time difference; a similar time difference would be present for 2022.
Fasel acknowledged the NHL’s concerns and said he was encouraged after the parties had what he called “a very positive meeting” in New York in early February. Follow-up discussions were placed on hold due to the pandemic.
“We didn’t give up after Pyeongchang. We understood the situation, how it was at that time. No bad feelings,” he said. “We really hope it will come in ’22, and we are ready to work and find a solution.”
The NHL and union have declined to discuss the proposed CBA until it is approved, which could happen as early as Friday.
Carolina Hurricanes veteran forward Justin Williams called the Olympic proposal “really attractive.”
“I just think it’s great for the game of hockey to be able to showcase the best players,” Williams said. “The Olympics are a special event in itself, but having NHL players there, even as actual players, we love to see the best on best. That’s pretty special.”
“It’s exciting to consider the team of Americans that could represent our country in Beijing, and we applaud the efforts of the NHL and the NHLPA in making this a possibility,” Kelleher said.
The NHL previously tamped down the chances of returning to Olympic play.
“At this point in time, we believe that the negatives outweigh the positives,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said following the February meeting in New York. Daly did raise the prospect of folding Olympic participation into CBA talks.
NHLPA executive director Don Fehr had a different take on talks with the IOC and IIHF, saying: “The impression I had coming out of the meeting was there ought to be a way to get this done to everybody’s satisfaction.”
Fehr previously described the decision to skip the 2018 Games as a lost opportunity to showcase the sport.
Fasel, whose term as IIHF president was extended a year to September 2021, praised the NHL and players for addressing the Olympics in the CBA.
“We do not have leverage, and we just have to get the PA and the NHL to understand this is good for the promotion of the sport, especially in Asia,” Fasel said. “I’m happy that in the end they understand this is important for the development of ice hockey in the future.”
Blackhawks say team name honors namesake who inspired
CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks say they will continue to use their team name because it honors a Native American leader who has been an inspiration to generations.
”The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the NHL team said in a statement Tuesday.
”We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.
”We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation. Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people. ”
The Athletic first reported on the team’s statement.
Under renewed pressure to change their name, the NFL’s Washington Redskins announced a ”thorough review” of the issue. In baseball, the Cleveland Indians are also looking into it while the Atlanta Braves declined.
Prospects like Kaprizov, Romanov, Sorokin won’t be eligible for NHL return, playoffs
NHL teams hoping to get a playoff/return-to-play boost from the likes of Kirill Kaprizov (Wild), Ilya Sorokin (Islanders), and Alexander Romanov (Canadiens) seem to be out of luck. At least for what’s left of 2019-20 for the NHL, aka the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others can’t play yet — but can burn a year off ELCs
There is a wrinkle, though.
Such reports indicate that Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others could burn a year off of their entry-level contracts, even though they can’t participate in the NHL return to play to wrap up 2019-20.
Now, would it be logical to burn a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Sorokin, and Romanov? Probably not. Overall, there are likely too many drawbacks for the players, teams, or both.
Take Kaprizov and the Wild, for example.
If you want detail about the Kaprizov/Wild/KHL situation, Russo’s covered those bases multiple times at The Athletic, including here (sub required). But to simplify things, the Wild and/or Kaprizov probably won’t go for burning off 2019-20 from a two-year entry-level deal because:
The Wild would only really have Kaprizov signed for 2020-21. While that would finally draw him to the NHL, it would merely give them a single season to gauge Kaprizov’s value. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic looming as a continued threat to stability, who knows if they’d even get that season?
Considering that the 2020-21 NHL season might start in December or January, Kaprizov would be stuck idle since March. Meanwhile, the KHL aims to begin its 2020-21 season around September. Kaprizov would risk serious uncertainty for limited gain.
So … yeah, teams have some reason to at least consider burning a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. But it just doesn’t seem like the wisest path, generally speaking.
With that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at Kaprizov and the Wild, Sorokin and the Islanders, Romanov and the Canadiens.
Waiting game continues for Wild, fans, Kaprizov
Plenty of people deem Kaprizov, 23, as the best player in hockey not playing in the NHL.
Kaprizov ranked first in the KHL in goals (33 in 57 games), also finishing close to the scoring title with 62 points. This was no fluke, as Kaprizov also scored the most goals (30) in the KHL during the 2018-19 season. Doing so at such a young age only leaves Wild fans even more anxious to see him.
And, unlike other young scorers, it doesn’t sound like many critique Kaprizov’s overall game. Back in May, The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin collected some rave reviews about Kaprizov, noting comparisons to “Artemi Panarin‘s mind” combined with Vladimir Tarasenko‘s tank-like body.
Sounds pretty good! The Wild should probably think about bringing Kaprizov over, eh? *Ducks*
But, yeah, a Wild team searching for good news and breakthrough talent could sure use Kaprizov. Maybe next season? Sadly, it sounds like at least a medium-sized maybe.
When you compare immediate concerns, Ilya Sorokin seems more like a luxury for the Islanders.
After all, the Islanders enjoyed another season of above-average goaltending. Semyon Varlamov was solid, and much like in 2018-19, Thomas Greiss provided comparable work to the Islanders’ would-be No.1. The sum result wasn’t at the level of what Greiss and Robin Lehner accomplished, but plenty of NHL teams must envy the Islanders’ goaltending.
So they don’t “need” Sorokin, seemingly.
But we’ve seen teams put together big playoff runs with rookie goalies intermittently since at least Ken Dryden swooped in, dominated, and leaned pensively on his goal stick for the dynasty-era Canadiens. That thought goes for goalies of various pedigrees, but particularly someone like Sorokin.
Besides, at 24, Sorokin’s getting to that age where the Islanders want to see what they have. Varlamov is 31, and Greiss is on an expiring contract and is 34.
However unlikely, a Sorokin-powered playoff run would’ve been the dream. Getting a better idea of where Sorokin ranks on the depth chart would have been nice, too.
Canadiens won’t get to make defense deeper with Romanov
How much of an impact would Alexander Romanov make for the Canadiens? Answers may vary.
The Ahtletic’s Scott Wheeler barely squeezed Romanov on his top 50 drafted prospects list at No. 48 (sub required). That said, Wheeler admitted that he’s lower on Romanov than many in the hockey world. This seems to be true, as Romanov placed 10th on The Hockey News’ future watch list, representing a meteoric rise from 45th the previous year.
Perhaps some of that variance comes down to how much weight given experts put on tournaments vs. season play.
The now-20-year-old defenseman earned top defenseman billing at the 2019 World Junior Championship, and excelled during the 2020 tournament, as well.
On the other hand, Romanov’s KHL stats have been modest, including a single goal over two KHL seasons (86 regular-season games).
But, in cases like Romanov’s, it’s often a debate regarding “How good?” The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin wrote that Romanov “looks like a future top-pair defenseman.” Wheeler sees Romanov more as a “sound defenseman” who could help in transition, yet probably won’t put up big numbers.
Either way, the Canadiens absolutely could use a player like Romanov. The better he ends up, the happier they are, of course. But even a steady presence would have helped against the Penguins.
Plenty of other prospects not involved in NHL return beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin
Naturally, there are noteworthy players who won’t get to participate in the NHL return to play beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. This post isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but two other players come to mind:
Grigori Denisenko – The Panthers share some of the same space as the Wild and Canadiens as bubble-adjacent teams who could use a boost. Denisenko isn’t considered as surefire as Kaprizov, but there’s a lot to like about the 20-year-old forward. That said, this would hurt even more if Denisenko was a defenseman, because Florida is pretty brutal in that area.
Jack Dugan – Like Romanov at 48, Dugan snuck into Wheeler’s top 50 at 47 (Denisenko ranks at 36, Kaprizov sits at six). Wheeler ranks among those that wonder if Dugan would make an immediate impact for the Golden Knights out of the NCAA. Some wonder if Dugan can eventually become a top-six forward. In other words, this isn’t necessarily a Cale Makar-style instant success story.
But Dugan breaks from some of the others on this list in being a prospect for a more proven team. The Golden Knights rank among the top four Western Conference teams, thus they’ll participate in the Round Robin for Seeding. I’d argue that Vegas stands out as one of the best of even that smaller group.
So imagine if Dugan can merely give them a boost? It’s arguable that Dugan could be a bigger deal than maybe a better prospect for a more needy team.
We won’t get to find out, though. While it’s the safer move, it’s a letdown for teams hoping for Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov, Denisenko, Dugan, and others.