Kukla's Korner

Change is Inevitable for Tampa Bay This Summer

Decisions, decisions.

For general manager Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning, this summer carries that theme. With no less than 12 expiring contracts set to come off the books, conventional wisdom dictates that this team, which enjoyed so much success in year one under Yzerman and head coach Guy Boucher, could very well look significantly different next season.

That isn’t to say that bringing back a majority of those whose contracts are up is impossible but Yzerman will have to employ a little creative thinking to do so, hope that key free agents aren’t wooed by big-time dollars elsewhere and sell once again what so many bought into this past season – that the group is more important than the individual. That Tampa Bay’s lengthy playoff run that fell a single win short of the Stanley Cup Final is still so fresh in the minds of all involved will only aid the overall cause.

But with so many variables in play, the most likely outcome remains a lineup for the Bolts in 2011-12 that is pointedly altered, as compared to its immediate predecessor. A little number-crunching almost assures as much, if only in thinking that each new contract affects another.

The two deals with the biggest impact on the Lightning books and the many other contracts requiring attention, of course, will be those of superstar forward Steven Stamkos and defenseman Eric Brewer, a late 2010-11 acquisition that helped stabilize the Bolts’ blueline tremendously down the stretch and into the postseason.

Stamkos’ status as a restricted free agent means almost certainly that he will return (though has there ever been a more attractive target for a potential offer sheet?) but Brewer, as a top-four defenseman, will command big dollars on the open market if he gets to July 1st. Because of many other areas in need of attention, the Lightning may not be able to compete for his services against rival bidders. It would be quite a reach to expect Brewer to take a pay cut on the $4.5 million he made last season, which might be what it would take to keep him around in these parts.

But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Brewer re-ups with an identical $4.5 cap hit and Stamkos comes in around the expected $7 million per. Where does that leave the Lightning, in terms of the other expiring deals they’ll have to tend to?

With the consensus high-end estimate for next year’s salary cap at about $63.5 million, $11.5 annually to Brewer and Stamkos would have Tampa Bay on the hook for roughly $48 million against the cap with just 13 players inked at the NHL level. Toss in a few more assumptions, as in restricted free agents Teddy Purcell, Mike Lundin and Matt Smaby signing for no more than their respective qualifying offers, and the Lightning would have a little more than $13 million remaining to do business with a pair of goaltenders and 5 position players. (Incidentally, here’s where I check right out of any and all Brad Richards return conversations. Snag him on the open market for, oh, $7 per – which banks on the pretentious idea of any sort of “hometown discount” – and you’re left with $6 million and change to fill 7more roster spots. Yikes.)

$13 million won’t get you much (relatively speaking, of course, because I could do some serious damage with that kind of cheddar in the real world) and there’s no guarantee it will even get you a return engagement with the Lightning’s own unrestricted crop. In fact, that group (consisting of Simon Gagne, Sean Bergenheim, Adam Hall, Randy Jones, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith) accounted for an aggregate cap hit of $13.25 million

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season. Gagne ($5.25), Roloson ($2.5) and Smith ($2.2) would all likely have to agree to a reduced salary to return and, while that is possible in each case, whatever money is saved there might be offset by raises to Bergenheim, Hall and Bergeron, each of whom would at least have a leg to stand on, to varying degrees, in arguing for as much.

Sure, the team could choose to part with one, more or all of their unrestricted group too – and that’s kind of the point…

In a nutshell, this group – as is – just isn’t coming back. Shame, too, because we saw what they were capable of with their extended postseason stay.

And let’s not anybody forget for a minute that nobody’s ever guaranteed this team will spend to the cap ceiling – what we’ve admittedly assumed irresponsibly in all hypothetical scenarios put forth and otherwise imagined.

So, with change clearly afoot, the best Yzerman can do is focus on locking Stamkos in for the long haul at a fair number. A little over a year ago, I argued that Nicklas Backstrom’s 10-year, $67 million deal with Washington was a fine comparable. Now, the Bolts would be awfully fortunate to get that dollar amount and term for a player that has potted a league-high 96 goals the last two seasons.

Beyond that, a reasonable deal for Brewer seems to make sense but anything more than his expiring $4.5 million hit could yield some complications for Tampa Bay and you can’t blame the player for looking for the best offer out there, if he chooses to do so. The Lightning just can’t be a part of that derby.

Naturally, Yzerman could wave the old trade wand to free up some extra space. The contract and age of d-man Mattias Ohlund pops out there, despite the cagey vet’s impressive playoff run. There are others, obviously, that stick out as well. Take your pick and add to the uncertainty in doing so… Perhaps a deal materializes somewhere that brings a fairly-priced (and competent) goaltender back in return? That, of course, would mean a farewell to either Roloson or Smith and, well, no one should be surprised if that comes to fruition.

Picture’s becoming clear, isn’t it?

As much as people would like to see another crack at things for last year’s incarnation of the Tampa Bay Lightning, that just isn’t going to happen.

It’s anyone’s guess as to how things will eventually shake out with this roster but make no mistake, change is coming.

Still, with year one as the backbone, the adopted mantra of the local fans – “In Yzerman We Trust” – won’t be abandoned any time soon.

Executive of the Year finalist as a rookie GM or not, with such a complex off-season of certain change on several levels, the real arduous work for Tampa Bay’s architect has only just begun.

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
JJ on Twitter

Filed in: Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

Comments

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Stamkos comes in around the expected $7 million per

we are all guilty of saying things like this once in a while; but, honestly i do not see Stamkos signing for only 7 million.  Stamkos is putting numbers up that rival Sid and OV in both goals and points the past two years.  Although many would argue, the fact is Sid did take a discount at 8.7 million.  If Stamkos takes a discount I would also figure it to be in the 8 million dollar range but he could also be looking to get paid, and be in the 9+ million dollar range.

Stamkos is the future for Tampa.  Marty and Vinny are both getting older.  This whole situation with tampa is going to be fun to watch this off season.

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 06/14/11 at 09:00 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

I don’t disagree with you. $7M would be good deal on Tampa’s end… Kind of hammers home the point, though, doesn’t it? That’s an expected minimum. There’s soooooo much work to be done for SY this summer.

Big changes here, I’m thinking, like it or not.

Thanks!

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 06/14/11 at 09:09 PM ET

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2nd what GtL says. If I’m Stamkos and Yzerman offers me $7 mil/y, I’m wondering why he think’s I’m worth $1.5 mil/y less than Eric Staal. Any argument Yzerman could make about taking less to win is going to ring hollow, since the other guy playing his position on Tampa makes $10mil/y. Heck, in Tampa’s Salary Structure, $7mil is what Malone makes.

Stamkos is the franchise going forward, so it only makes sense he’d be paid that way.

Unfortunately for Stevie Y, the train has left the station for those goofy start-at-9-mil-end-at-500k-when-he’s-40 contracts that Detroit made so much use of to keep Franzen’s and Zetterberg’s cap hits down, so Stamkos’ hit is going to be very close to his Salary.

One thing that’s absolutely certain: Yzerman MUST NOT let Stamkos

a) go to arbitration. His comparables all make north of $8.5mm/y (though some have lower cap hits). With arbitration, his cap hit will be his salary, so if he gets $9.5mm, that’s what comes out of the team cap.

b) get to July 1 without a contract. Burke and Sather will be tripping over themselves and each other to throw CBA max at SS one second after the clock chimes 12. I doubt Tampa can pay that. Not even sure they should.

Posted by steviesteve on 06/14/11 at 10:36 PM ET

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Well I really think that you’re all fairly wrong.  Allow me to explain.  In short, Yzerman will ask the players to buy in and create a winner (should be a soft sell, since they were one game away from the final).  Stamkos’  salary will be determined in reference to Lecavalier gets, not Staal (look at Detroit).  Brewer will take the discount @3 per - ish (or be cut loose).  Bergeron can walk.  Bergenheim will get 2.25 per for 3. Same with Purcell.  Gagne is a pretty hobbled guy that would make any GM sorry for shelling out too much….but he is a friend of Yzerman and a pretty smart guy, he signs for 2.5 for 4 yrs (seriously).  Buying out Kubina leaves a cap hit of 1.5.  Adam Hall can get 850k.
If Stammer is at 8, then this all leaves 8.75 to fill 2 spots on the blueline and 2 in net.  A holding pattern in net should be 2.5 for Rolly and 2 for Smith.  (but I have a feeling there’s a surprise here).  4.25 for a 5th and 6th Dman is pretty manageable.
The problems are that Boucher likes a 7th D, and that riding the cap like that gives you precious little flexibility throughout the season.
Also, thinking in 1 year chunks is not the secret to franchise building (and I think Yzerman knows the secret).
But I definitely assume that a lot of these guys will take discounts and be part of the core long term (Bergenheim, Moore, Purcell for sure, and hopefully Brewer and Gagne…..I wouldn’t be too surprised)

Posted by tuxedoTshirt on 06/15/11 at 02:14 AM ET

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Stamkosā€™  salary will be determined in reference to Lecavalier gets, not Staal (look at Detroit).

Lecavalier makes more than Staal. He actually makes more than Ovechkin as well. He’s the league’s highest-paid player until 2012 (Kovalchuk).


Detroit’s ‘model’ was never to get top-end guys to take less to build a winner, anyway. Pre-cap, it was just pay whatever, based on what similar players were making (Lidstrom was tied with Jagr and Pronger for highest-paid player in 2004 and 2006)

Post-cap, it’s been two pronged

a) sign guys to semi-long term deals at slightly above market rate for whatever their performance last year was and hope they have a breakout season during the contract. Examples: Zetterberg (2005), Kronwall, Datsyuk. Sometimes this doesn’t work, though (Filppula). Problem is, Stamkos already had his breakout season and proved it wasn’t a fluke the next year, so this is out the window.

b) add low-pay years at the end of the contract when the player will likely be retired (Franzen, Zetterberg 09) to make the cap hit artificially lower than it should be. The NHL put the kibosh on this strategy in the 2010 offseason and any remaining loopholes will be closed in the next CBA. Not an option.

Brewer’s best comparable on Detroit makes about $4mil, so I don’t know why he would accept $3mil based on that reasoning.

Posted by steviesteve on 06/15/11 at 03:02 AM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

Sign tuxedoTshirt up! He’s got the whole off-season nailed already!!! wink

Seriously, the team concept is key here and will be pitched heavily. We’ll see how that works out. It always sounds great, in theory, but guys are also always going to do what they feel is best for them.

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 06/15/11 at 10:11 AM ET

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