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:
Nick Paul – #GoBolts
$3.15M x 7 year extension
NTC: years 1-4
Limited-NTC years 5-7 (16 team no-trade)
22-23: 750K base + 3.4M SB
23-24: 2.15M + 2M SB
26-27: 1.5M + 1M SB
27-28: 1.5M + 1M SB
28-29: 1.5M + 1M SBhttps://t.co/3e9YIara7C
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) July 1, 2022
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.
Tampa obviously very pleased with Nick Paul's late-season / playoff run; his 7×3.15m extension is still probably buying v. high. pic.twitter.com/mjCzPZl6oi
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 1, 2022
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.
NICHOLAS 🥵 pic.twitter.com/7SMrBs9EJm
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) May 15, 2022
On its own, the Nicholas Paul contract extension is an interesting value proposition for the Lightning.
Nick Paul signs for seven years in Tampa Bay, where he played like a top-six forward post-deadline. More time in that skilled lineup should boost his value over the next few years. pic.twitter.com/QVgCALOmTm
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) July 1, 2022
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:
- Anthony Cirelli, 24.
- Mikhail Sergachev, 24.
- Erik Cernak, 25.
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.)
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.