Paul extension part of latest Lightning salary cap juggling

Paul extension part of latest Lightning salary cap juggling
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When it comes to keeping players in the fold and managing the salary cap, the Lightning always seemed to have tricks up their sleeves. People might even make shirts about it. The Lightning revealed the first step of their salary cap juggling act by signing Nicholas Paul (sometimes Nick Paul) to a contract extension.

On its own, Paul extension an interesting move by Lightning

It’s a fascinating one, too. The Lightning confirmed a seven-year contract extension for the 27-year-old, which carries a $3.15M cap hit through 2028-29.

Cap Friendly added details about the Paul contract extension, including the Lightning handing him some trade protection:

Nicholas Paul first started getting some NHL looks with sporadic games played for the Senators from 2015-16 through 2018-19. It wasn’t until 2019-20 that he firmly established himself as an NHL fixture.

In both 2019-20 and 2020-21, Paul collected exactly 20 points in 56 games apiece.

Before being traded to the Lightning, Paul’s last run of Senators’ production was amusingly familiar. He generated 18 points in 59 games.

Clearly, the Lightning saw more in Paul than what he produced with the Senators.

They traded Mathieu Joseph and a fourth-rounder for Paul, who ramped up his scoring rate (14 points in 21 regular-season games) after joining the Bolts.

Of course, some of Nicholas Paul’s biggest, contract-extension-inspiring moments happened during the Lightning’s playoff run. Most memorably, he scored two goals to help the Lightning beat the Maple Leafs in a Game 7.

On its own, the Nicholas Paul contract extension is an interesting value proposition for the Lightning.

That’s in a vacuum. With the Lightning, every expenditure (and departure) ripples through their salary cap situation.

Once more, let’s review what could be ahead.

Paul extension part of latest offseason of Lightning salary cap management

Here’s the deal: the Lightning know how to maneuver around the salary cap. Often, that means finding hidden doors when the rest of us only see barriers.

Many might assume that the Paul extension would prohibit the already-salary-cap-challenged Lightning from bringing back free agent Ondrej Palat. At the moment, that still seems reasonable. Just don’t bet your house on it.

Consider, for instance, Elliotte Friedman’s report about the Lightning possibly finding a trade solution for Ryan McDonagh.

Considering McDonagh’s full no-trade clause, it may ultimately be a moot point. Still, McDonagh’s 33, and his $6.75M cap hit runs through 2025-26.

Floating a McDonagh trade wouldn’t just be about current Bolts free agents

Understandably, some might look at a Ryan McDonagh trade through the lens of the immediate future. Maybe the Lightning are focused on moving around space to keep Palat or others.

But there’s incentive to clear off that $6.75M cap hit for bigger future Lightning salary cap considerations. As noted in this post, here are the younger Lightning forwards entering contract years, who are due for potentially big raises from 2023-24 and on:

Personally, Cirelli is the most essential of those three players. That’s not a slight to Sergachev or Cernak, mind you. Both defensemen are important cogs in an underrated larger Lightning defense. Look at the multi-year RAPM comparison between McDonagh and Cernak, for instance, and you may surmise that Cernak could absorb tough minutes. (Granted, McDonagh’s a left-handed defenseman, while Cernak shoots right.)

[Recapping a bruising, injury-filled run to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final]

One other wrinkle that might go unnoticed: some key Lightning veterans don’t have a ton of term left.

Victor Hedman, 31, needs a new contract after his bargain $7.875M cap hit expires following the 2024-25 season. Steven Stamkos, 32, is up a year later ($8.5M through 2023-24).

So, there’s room for additional annual tinkering (sometimes panicking?) when it comes to the Lightning, contracts, and salary cap management. Paul’s extension, while modest, is a relevant piece of the puzzle. After all, every dollar counts. Possibly moving McDonagh’s dollars could be key, then.

There will also be some changes behind the bench. On Thursday, the Red Wings announced that now-former-Lightning assistant Derek Lalonde as their next head coach.

When it comes to maintaining a contender, it’s not just challenging to keep the same people on the ice. You risk losing bright front office people, too.

(But the salary cap part is still the trickiest.)

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.