Tampa Bay Lightning skate it slipping just below salary cap
As the dust cleared and pucks dropped in the first games of a shortened 2021 NHL season, everything between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the salary cap was $ 334. GM Julien BriseBois had the equivalent of little more than a custom Lightning jersey in silver.
BriseBois, a general manager recognized as a “capologue” to manage player contracts and keep teams in compliance with the league’s salary cap, had their work cut out for them. After the Lightning won the Stanley Cup last season, they entered the offseason with just over $ 5 million to play and a number of restricted free agents to sign.
Under normal circumstances, it’s hard enough for a defending champion team to keep their roster intact. NHL teams are subject to a strict salary cap, which means they don’t even have the option of going over the limit and paying a luxury tax. The Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017 remain the only team to repeat as champions since the 2004-05 lockout brought us the salary cap. These penguins could count on an increase in the salary cap from $ 71.4 million in the 2015-16 season to $ 73 million the next, and they managed to get it back, or bring it back in this case, with little list rotation.
The Lightning’s last offseason had a core of dear stars and a handful of young players in need of new contracts, including defenders Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak, and forwards Anthony Cirelli, Carter Verhaeghe, Mathieu Joseph, Alexander Volkov and Mitchell. Stephens. What they didn’t have, however, was extra money.
Although BriseBois expected the salary cap to reach at least $ 84 million, it remained stable at $ 81.5 million, unresponsive to the previous season due to the stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The NHL will play a 56-game season – down from 82 normally – and without as many fans as it normally would have expected, resulting in a lot less revenue at the gate. “The system and the effects of the pandemic have merged to control the upper limit and keep it low,” said Mike Liut, a former goaltender who became CEO of management company Octagon Hockey.
BriseBois had just eight days between his team’s Cup victory over the Dallas Stars and the NHL Draft to enjoy the calm before the offseason storm. Two days after the project ended, he offered waivers to Tyler Johnson. The 30-year-old center who scored 14 goals and 31 points in 65 games in 2020 was in the trading block last offseason, but no one bit his $ 5 million-a-year contract.
Should the Lightning part ways with Steven Stamkos’ contract, with an annual cap of $ 8.5 million? Its no-move clause complicated matters. Brayden Point’s contract had a cap of $ 6.75 million, but he was likely seen as untouchable after his heroic bubble playoff heroics, not to mention being part of the team’s efforts to keep the Cup window open in future. He and former Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov were not up for the trade talks. Maybe someone wanted to pick up a flyer on Ondrej Palat or Alex Killorn at their salaries (2020-2021 caps of $ 5.3 million and $ 4.45 million, respectively)?
Luckily for the Lightning, it didn’t need any of these options, which BriseBois never really considered.
Sergachev, Cernak, Cirelli, Stephens, Joseph, Volkov and Verhaeghe were all restricted free agents, meaning opposing GMs could have used an offer sheet in hopes of attracting at least one of between them. Verhaeghe did not receive a qualifying offer and went on to sign with the Florida Panthers. But the remaining players have all made new deals with the Lightning.
Why didn’t the other teams take advantage of it? There is a story where NHL teams were content to match competing offer sheets, which led to restricted free agents staying with their home clubs, and teams may have been shy. But the fixed salary cap that was hampering Tampa Bay was also hampering the rest of the league. And Liut thought the Lightning’s cap issues weren’t as bad as those of other teams.
“They were in a position like many clubs this summer where they had serious capping issues,” Liut said. “In general [with] General Managers of the NHL, if a club is in a position where it is clearly limited, then it’s kind of “it’s on you”. If I don’t rate your player, you’ve left yourself vulnerable, and if it’s not me, it will be someone else. I don’t think they’ve ever been in this predicament to this degree.
The most interesting but most useful move in the Lightning involved the best and highest paid skater. When it was announced that Kucherov would miss the 2021 regular season after hip surgery, the team placed him in long-term reserve for the injured. His salary of $ 9.5million would be rather hidden while he was not on the roster, giving the team a chance to sign restricted free agents and stay under the cap.
The Lightning also sent defenseman Braydon Coburn and forward Cedric Paquette – with a combined cap of $ 3.35 million – to the Ottawa Senators in a trade for injured Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson. Tampa then concealed those two in a similar fashion, giving the team a total of $ 16,975,000 in wages intended for players on their long-term injured list. These measures saved the Lightning nearly $ 13 million, and although their cap reached nearly $ 100 million, relief from the injured reserve brought it down to $ 81,499,666.
|The biggest contract|
|Attackers||Kucherov||$ 9,500,000||$ 59,774,666|
|Defense||Hedman||$ 7,875,000||25,300,000 USD|
|Goalkeepers||Vasilevskiy||$ 9,500,000||13,400,000 USD|
|Reserve for long-term casualties||Kucherov||$ 9,500,000||– $ 16,975,000|
|Total salary||$ 81,499,666|
|League-wide salary cap||81,500,000 USD|
|Ceiling amount||$ 334|
Tampa Bay isn’t the only team to take advantage of this cap workaround – nine other teams have also been hiding players in the long-term injured reserve before the start of the season. Some pundits, however, aren’t necessarily in favor of teams using the long-term injured reserve list to stay under the cap.
But agents like Liut see long-term wounded reserve tactics as one of the only ways for CEOs to cope with rising wages in the age of the salary cap. “There is very little flexibility for clubs and agents to negotiate contracts,” Liut said. “There are no renegotiations. You can’t go in and reconfigure your team and save ceiling space like you can in football. I mean, there is literally nothing.
Days after the start of the NHL season, the Lightning found themselves $ 8,334 from ceiling to ceiling. Johnson, along with defenseman Luke Schenn, was once again on waiver, intending to make him part of his team’s “cab squad”. This meant that he would travel with the team as an additional corps in case the team needed him, and his full salary would not count towards the cap until he returned to the roster, which he did. did Jan 15th. Cristoval “Boo” Nieves – who was later on waived and then assigned to the American Hockey League team’s branch in Syracuse – pushed the Lightning to just $ 334 off the upper limit.
Despite Kucherov’s absence, the Lightning is still a talented team, with many of the same players who helped them to the Stanley Cup last September. They have a good chance of repeating themselves as champions and they started the season with 11 points on a 5-1-1 record.
There will be other tricks that BriseBois will have to try during the season to stay in compliance with the cap, such as rotating players in and out of the taxi team to save money on their daily cap. Considering the stakes and the flat cap, the Lightning will need all the tricks in the book.