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Not ‘impossible’ for Lightning to add big piece after Kucherov extension

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Now that Nikita Kucherov is locked up, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman wasn’t ready to rule out adding another big contract if the price is right.

“I don’t think it’s impossible,” Yzerman said on a Wednesday conference call. “But if you just look at our one-way commitments for the following season, we still have cap space left for this year to add if we wanted. But if we were to bring in a significant contract we would have to make the money work so to speak, and going forward it would be the same situation beyond this year.”

Of course, a significant addition could be that of Erik Karlsson and a potential extension that comes along with a trade that’s been rumored for weeks. Things appeared to heat up last week but has now seemingly cooled for the moment. But according to Yzerman, don’t believe what you read or hear.

“Despite what you’ve read or may have reported, it’s inaccurate,” he said.

[Kucherov’s $76 million extension with Lightning is a bargain]

Even without a Karlsson addition plus a max extension, the Lightning’s salary cap picture going forward is an interesting one. Yzerman has proven already he knows how to navigate tricky waters, and he’ll have to continue to do so next summer.

As per Cap Friendly, the summer of 2019 could see bigger names like Yanni Gourde, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn and Dan Girardi able to hit the unrestricted free agent market. Brayden Point, meanwhile, is schedule to become a restricted free agent on July 1 of next year. Add in that both Mikhail Sergachev and Andrei Vasilevskiy will be eligible for extensions in a year’s time and you can see just how much maneuvering Yzerman will need to do in order to keep his key pieces in town.

“These guys are good players, really good players, and when you look around the League, they’re going to get paid a certain amount,” Yzerman said. “We want to keep as many of our good players as we can. We’d like to keep everybody. Unfortunately you can’t do that. But we’re trying to be as competitive as possible while trying to manage the salary cap.”

The Lightning currently have nearly $66 million tied up in 12 players for the 2019-20 NHL season. Should a Karlsson deal and extension get done, that number will change depending on the contracts heading out of Tampa. Yzerman will also likely be helped by another increase in the cap ceiling, which has steadily risen since the 2013 lockout.

“I guess we’re comfortable [in regards to the salary cap] for the time being with this season,” he said. “We’re comfortable where we are going forward. But at some point we’re going to have to make decisions that are strictly cap-related.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

How Bolts could fit Erik Karlsson under cap

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Over the last few hours, it’s been reported that the Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the favorites to land franchise defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators. For that to happen, Bolts GM Steve Yzerman would have to get creative because he has to find a way to create cap space.

As of right now, the Lightning only have $3.446 million in cap space. Even if we forget about Karlsson’s extension, which would start next year, they still have to find some money to make it work. If anyone can pull this off, it’s Yzerman. He’s managed to pull rabbits out of his hat before (see this year’s trade deadline).

So, how can Yzerman make this work? There’s a few different ways. Let’s take a look.

• Find a taker for Ryan Callahan

Trading Callahan is going to be easier said than done. The 33-year-old is currently the second-highest paid forward on the team at $5.8 million per year for the next two seasons. Callahan put up five goals and 18 points in 67 games last season and he also has a long injury history. To make matters worse, he underwent shoulder surgery in late May. He’s expected to be sidelined for five months.

Still, there are teams that won’t be competitive that could take on the final two years of this contract if the Lightning make it worth their while. The Montreal Canadiens were willing to take on Steve Mason‘s contract from Winnipeg (they eventually bought him out). The Habs still have cap space. Could they be part of a deal?

The one thing the Lightning can’t do is retain salary. They’ll need money next year to pay Karlsson and Nikita Kucherov and they already have Matthew Carle’s dead money ($1.83 million) on the cap.

• Unload Dan Girardi and Brayden Coburn

These two veteran defenseman combine to make $6.7 million (Coburn earns $3.7 million, Girardi earns $3 million). It’s not like the Lightning don’t have youngsters that can step into that role right away, either. Both Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin were regularly scratched at the end of last season because there was no room for them.

Yes, losing Girardi and Coburn would hurt you in the leadership department, but it’s a small sacrifice to make if they’re going to add Karlsson to their current group of defensemen.

Even if they’re forced to give up Mikhail Sergachev to the Senators, they’d still have a top four of Karlsson, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman. That’s as good of a top four as there is in the NHL right now.

• Get Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat or Alex Killorn to waive their NTC

This all depends on what their going to give up to get Karlsson. If they have to unload a center like Brayden Point, then they’ll want to keep Johnson because he’s a natural center. If Yzerman finds a way to keep point, Johnson could become expendable.

Of course, if they wanted to trade Johnson, it would have been easier to do so before July 1st when his no-trade clause kicked in. But maybe they didn’t realize how motivated Ottawa was to trade Karlsson in the summer.

Johnson has six years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $5 million per season, while Palat has four years left on his deal at $5.3 million. Again, either player would have to accept to be moved, which might complicate matters. Maybe either one of these players could be headed to Ottawa in the trade. They’re still both just 27 years old, so the Sens could have an interest in them.

Moving Killorn’s deal may be a little more difficult. He has five years left at $4.45 million.

• Make Senators retain salary

As if this would ever happen.

Karlsson is set to earn $6.5 million this year. Convincing the Sens to eat some of that contract would help the Lightning fit him under the cap this season, but again, it’s unlikely that the Senators will be interesting in going down that route for obvious reasons.

MORE: 

No prospect should hold up an Erik Karlsson deal

Five logical landing spots for Erik Karlsson

What would Erik Karlsson mean for Stars?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Lightning hand Ryan McDonagh giant extension

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The Tampa Bay Lightning announced a huge signing on free agent day, but it didn’t involve John Tavares.

Instead, to some surprise, the Lightning signed defenseman Ryan McDonagh to a seven-year, $47.25 million extension (which means it will be a $6.75M cap hit). The extension will kick in starting in 2019-20, as McDonagh still has a season remaining on his current deal, which only registers a $4.7M cap hit.

Here are a few additional reported details:

McDonagh turned 29 on June 13, so he’ll be 30 by the time his new contract kicks in. From that standpoint, the Lightning are taking an interesting risk. It also sheds some light on some moves that they might not make.

In the long run, GM Steve Yzerman is committing to a future that involves Victor Hedman (27, signed through 2024-25 at a $7.875M cap hit) and McDonagh on defense, with Mikhail Sergachev carrying two more years on his entry-level contract. Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, and Dan Girardi all enter contract years in 2018-19, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Lightning move on from all three (or only keep one) of those veteran blueliners.

It’s also worth noting that Yzerman has wasted little time in locking down the big pieces of the McDonagh trade from the New York Rangers. Mere days ago, the Lightning handed J.T. Miller a five-year, $26.25M contract that was also more than a bit surprising.

Time will tell if the Lightning made the right calls in locking up those former Rangers for such term, as Stevie Y & Co. still have some questions to answer. Nikita Kucherov is set for a massive raise after this season, while Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde could also become RFAs next summer. A bigger payday isn’t far away for Vezina finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy, either, as his $3.5M cap hit only runs through 2019-20.

While it sure seems like a cap crunch is coming, there’s no denying that the Lightning look like a juggernaut heading into 2018-19, even if the remainder of their moves end up being marginal. Keeping a high-end defenseman such as McDonagh in the fold highlights that point.

Do the Lightning have even more surprises waiting for the hockey world? We’ll find out soon enough.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Amid Tavares push, Lightning give J.T. Miller big contract

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One J.T. down, one to go?

The Tampa Bay Lightning raised some eyebrows on Tuesday by signing J.T. Miller to a five-year, $26.25 million contract, which means he’ll carry a $5.25M cap hit from 2018-19 to 2022-23. This lofty deal surfaces despite the already-cap-challenged Lightning reportedly being a part of the bidding war for John Tavares‘ services, which makes this substantial investment doubly surprising.

That’s not to take anything away from Miller, 25, who’s coming off three consecutive seasons of at least 22 goals. He generated a career-high by a small margin with 23 this past season, also accruing 58 points. He fit in very nicely in Tampa Bay, essentially filling trade partner Vladislav Namestnikov‘s spot alongside Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

(This deal is the latest reminder that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman sure loves ex-Rangers. See: Ryan McDonagh being in that trade, not to mention commitments to Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, and Anton Stralman over the years.)

This only strengthens the impression that Yzerman will need to pull some strings – maybe trade Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Braydon Coburn, etc.? – to make Tavares fit into the salary structure, even for a season.

The five-year term stands as one of the most interesting things to consider, as the Lightning face some steep potential raises in the near future. Consider these situations:

  • Nikita Kucherov’s almost-scandalous bargain of $4.767M expires after 2018-19. Yzerman deserves credit for squeezing Kucherov’s RFA status for all it was worth there, but even as an RFA again, Kucherov’s going to get paid … one way or another.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy is due for a big raise from his $3.5M cap hit. On the bright side, Tampa Bay has him on the hook for two more seasons.
  • Two exceptional young players will be eligible to become RFAs during the 2019 summer: Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde.

All things considered, it sure seems like the Lightning are primed for an all-in season in 2018-19, and then they’ll need to pivot. Some of that cap crunch is likely to strike much sooner, and there’d be some serious gymnastics required if Tavares becomes a genuine possibility.

If anyone can do it, it’s Yzerman and the Bolts.

Will we look back at this contract as one Stevie Y will regret, or this yet another ahead-of-their-time bargain? It should be fascinating to find out.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, “J.T.” stands for “Jonathan Tanner.” At least when it doesn’t stand for John Tavares.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ovechkin, Capitals headed to Stanley Cup Final after Game 7 triumph

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Alex Ovechkin will get his chance.

The Great 8 will contest for the Stanley Cup after his Washington Capitals defeated their past demons and the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday.

Yes, the Capitals — a team that had to overcome a horrific playoff record against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and then had to deal the disappointment of beginning the Conference Final with wins in Games 1 and 2 only to drop three straight to trail 3-2.

They took care of business in Game 6, and that train kept chugging along into Game 7.

Ovi put his stamp on Game 7 just 62 seconds in as he wired a one-timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The first period was a wild affair, filled with scuffles, a fight and stolen jersey.

And then Andre Burakovsky arrived.

Burakovsky missed the first 12 games of the plays because of injury and then followed that up with seven games without a point.

He revealed earlier in the series that he lays a mental beating on himself too often. So Game 7 must have felt pretty good.

Burakovsky scored on two separate breakaways in the second period.

The first came off a brutal giveaway from Dan Girardi in his own zone. His second came after the Lightning got caught on a bad change.

Tampa looked like a shell of their former selves. They dusted themselves off after dropping the first two at home, but simply stopped scoring after the 33-second mark in the second period of Game 5.

[PHT’s Three Stars]

Braden Holtby showed up at precisely the right moment in the series, posting consecutive shutouts to close out the series.

Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, meanwhile, were far from brilliant. No one over the last seven periods and change was on the Lightning.

The Lightning went 159:33 without scoring. Ouch.

You can’t win games when you don’t score, something the Lightning will have all summer to ponder. They led the NHL with 296 goals this season, all of which means sweet nothing now.

And now the attention turns to one of the more intriguing Cup Finals in a long time.

One of the greatest players of all-time with a chance to win his first Cup silence his critics after years of disappointment against the best story in sports, period.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final begins Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

In the words of Bart Scott, “Can’t wait.”

MORE:
NHL Playoffs 2018: Stanley Cup Final TV Schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck