The Tampa Bay Lightning have a long and, quite simply, brutal off-season ahead of them. Who will be gone, and who will be brought in?
Emotionally, Tampa Bay Lightning fans have gone into phases of disappointment, finger-pointing and finally, disbelief after a 62-win regular season and zero post-season victories. Then add to that on the surface of the whole off-season, the expected cap crunch. It’s obviously a very stressful time of the year for the Lightning faithful.
What’s The Plan?
I have already written a piece on each phase of the offseason. I started by covering potential draft options for the Lightning, the re-sign phase, and trades/signings during the free agent period. I also did a piece on Lightning head coach Jon Cooper.
But for this article, I decided to change it up. I went to several different people and asked them what players would make sense for the Lightning to trade for or sign during the free agent period. Keep in mind, I’m not mocking any trades, looking at salary caps, or saying these things should happen. These are simple suggestions that could be very intriguing coming from not just me, but several hockey fans, as well as a few other writers on the Puck77 site.
Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes
The Lightning may be looking for a change of leadership after the embarrassment of a first-round exit. This does NOT mean that the person who suggested this wants Lightning forward Steven Stamkos out by any means, but Williams is a veteran leader and a captain of a team who has more postseason wins in the second round then the Lightning had this entire postseason.
Although he is 37-years-old, Williams is coming off a 53-point season with a young Carolina Hurricanes team, and he currently sits at five points in 10 post-season games. A clutch playoff performer and incredible locker room leader, Williams would be a great addition, although extremely unlikely.
Ryan Reaves, Vegas Golden Knights
The biggest element to playoff hockey is its intensity. It’s easy to say physicality in the playoffs may be one of the most compelling elements to success, as the Lightning were dominated in the physical aspect of the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. When a guy like “Muffin Man” Ryan Reaves is on the ice, I don’t think many people can out-hit you.
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Although not much of a producer (he’s never had a season with over 20 points), Reaves adds something to a teams game that is often overlooked. He is praised as a great teammate and locker room presence, and is a cheap addition to the bottom-six. Something that could definitely happen, especially if Adam Erne does not re-sign with Tampa this off-season.
Brian Boyle, Nashville Predators
I’m not kidding you when I say Brian Boyle was the most suggested add for the Lightning when I asked around. It makes sense too, as Boyle may not be too expensive and has offensive upside, especially if paired with guys like J.T. Miller and Mathieu Joseph.
A member of the Lightning previously (2014-17), he knows Cooper’s system and he has played with some of the guys on the team in the past, like Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson. With his prior stint on the Lightning, his offensive upside and his physical presence, this is a move that is certainly realistic and something the Lightning should pursue.
Connor Brown, Toronto Maple Leafs
This is another suggestion that intrigues me. Connor Brown is young (25) and often underused by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not to mention, the salary situation that the Leafs are in could make Brown expendable.
He has decent offensive upside for a bottom-nine role (three consecutive seasons with 27+ points, including a 20-goal, 36-point campaign in 2016-17). He’s also a physical presence on the ice, and has far more takeaways (120) than giveaways (68) in his career. He would be another great fit for the Lightning, and realistic based on Toronto’s situation. Again, highly unlikely, but still something to keep an eye on.
Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets
The first defenseman that was suggested, Jacob Trouba is a solid blueliner, and has been for a few years with the Winnipeg Jets. He is slated to be a free agent after recording 50 points this past season. As a defenseman that’s super impressive.
Add him to the list of Lightning defenders Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh as high-end offensive blueliners for the Lightning, and you have one incredible d-core. Add in Erik Cernak as a solid transitional and defensively responsible blueliner, and one of Braydon Coburn, Jan Rutta and Dan Girardi as a stay-at-home type, and you have yourself arguably the deepest and most talented defense in the entire NHL.
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This is just a pipe dream however, as the cap situation may be too much to work around, and Trouba could be looking for top-two money and minutes if he leaves the Jets. Something he most likely won’t get with Tampa.
Jordie Benn, Montreal Canadians
Jordie Benn has been a solid bottom-pair defenseman basically his entire career, and would be a great fit in the Lightning organization. If Tampa lets Coburn and Girardi walk away this offseason, Benn would be a nice addition.
He blocks a ton of shots (128 this season), and plays a physical brand of hockey. He does give the puck up often, which was the downfall for Tampa this season, but again, his physicality and blocking is important and deserves a look.
Patrick Nemeth, Dallas Stars
Not as offensive as Benn (10 points to Benn’s 20 this season), Patrik Nemeth does block more shots (131 blocks) and has more hits. He also turns the puck over less, although Benn does have more takeaways. What this tells me is Nemeth is purely a stay-at-home, shot blocking, physically inclined defenseman, who tries to play it safe with the puck rather than drive the offense. If he’s paired with either Hedman or Sergachev, he could be a solid addition. Again, however, it’s not very likely, but something to look for.
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
Erik Karlsson was considered the best of the best on the blue line in the National Hockey League and is still considered a premier defenseman. However, an injury ravaged season, as well as a new system and new players to learn to play with and gain chemistry with, caused the elite Swedish blueliner to take a step back.
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This opens the eyes of several NHL franchises as he could take a cheaper deal than what he would have had he been available last off-season. This is still a longshot for the Lightning to reel in, as they have their own agenda and free agents (Brayden Point) to deal with, making this a very difficult signing.
Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets
Matt Duchene has been tearing it apart the playoffs. He ripped up the Lightning in round one, and continued his strong play into round two against the Boston Bruins. He is also a leader on and off the ice, and if he does come to Tampa Bay, he could take them to that next step in the playoffs, as he appears to be clutch in the big moments.
Again, a long shot, but it would be an incredible acquisition if they traded a few players on semi-hefty deals (Killorn, Johnson, Palat) and bought out one big contract (Ryan Callahan) to free up space for both Duchene and upcoming restricted free agent Point. I don’t expect it to happen at all, but what a piece to bring in.
Ryan Dzingal, Columbus Blue Jackets
Now this is something that could happen.
Dzingel has taken steps to become a picture-perfect middle-six forward, and he may not cost much more than $4.5M on a contract. If they move Palat, Johnson or Killorn and buyout Callahan, they could re-sign Point and bring in Dzingel. He could play a role similar to that of Miller, fluctuating between the first, second, and third lines, and be able to produce in all of those spots. Could strengthen an already solid power play unit.
Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs
This is realistic in a sense that he will likely be available. He is also a leader on and off the ice, and defense is a growing need in Tampa with the likes of Anton Stralman, Girardi and Coburn likely out-of-town come the summer.
But the Lightning already have a punishing top-four defense, with Hedman, McDonagh, Sergachev and Cernak there. Adding Gardiner isn’t necessary, but it would add incredible depth for the Bolts on the backend. It is highly unlikely, however.
Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes
This was an interesting suggestion. The recently turned 23-year-old Foegele is coming of his first season of NHL play. In 77 games, he only racked up 15 points (10 goals, five assists), but his possession statistics is where he really showed his value.
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He had a 53.8 Corsi For %, which is outstanding, and a positive takeaway to giveaway ratio of 37-31. But he has been incredible in the playoffs, with 8 points in 10 games and helping pave the way for the Hurricanes success. He’s also racked up 21 hits in the postseason, showing he can play physical if need be.
He’s a bottom-six forward, with middle-to-top-six potential. Because of his potential and his current status as a bottom-six guy, he may not be too expensive either. With big contracts on the horizon, the Hurricanes wouldn’t be dumb enough to take a contract like Killorn’s one for one, so it’d have to be more appealing in some way. Maybe salary retainment or additional picks can do the trick, but who knows if the Hurricanes would send him packing, especially with how well he’s done in the postseason. So that makes a move to Tampa very unlikely for Foegele. But this is something I would love to happen, given his early career postseason success.
All stats via hockey-reference
Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals