Mike's Mailbag: Salary Cap, Johnson, Stamkos, and More!
It’s a quieter edition of Mike’s Mailbag this time around, with only a handful of responses submitted. Thanks to everyone who took the time. With fewer questions, there’s an opportunity to go into a little bit more depth with my responses.
Henryhockey asks: Where will Tyler Johnson play in the Bolts lineup? Do you see him being sent down or being “taxied” this season to give a youngster a shot?
I expect Johnson to be a fixture in the Lightning’s top-nine, just as he was before the offseason. While the relationship between player and team might be a little bit more uncomfortable after a summer that saw the team try to dump him for free, the reality now is that the two are “stuck” together. For Johnson, being stuck in a familiar spot with a chance to win back-to-back Stanley Cups is hardly a punishment. Based on everything I’ve heard and read out of camp, the two sides seem to have moved on with little issue.
For the Lightning, that’s a good thing. The unfortunate elephant in the room is that this Tampa organization is running on largely bare cupboards throughout its minor league ranks. That’s the price to pay for ultra competitiveness at the NHL level; thankfully the gamble paid off, but there are dark years on the not-too-distant horizon. Even the bigger forward prospect names that most are familiar with have serious question marks around their ability to translate things to the big-league level. There’s simply no one knocking on the door to an extent that would necessitate Tyler Johnson being taxied.
Justice asks: Do you think Point and Stamkos will have similar, of even greater, magic to that of Point and Kucherov?
It’s probably a stretch to think that ANYTHING can match the standard set by the Point, Kucherov, and Palat trio during the 2020 postseason, but there is definitely a possibility for Stamkos to create magic on that line if all goes well this year. Right now, though, it’s pretty much a guessing game. Per Natural Stat Trick, Point and Stamkos only played a total of 26:48 together at five-on-five without Kucherov as the third linemate last year. It’s impossible to draw any conclusions from such a small sample size. The question is whether the unbelievably good results that the three generated together in 288:16 five-on-five minutes is replicable without Kucherov on the ice.
For context, consider that Point and Kucherov together without Stamkos generated a five-on-five expected goal share roughly 3% lower than that generated when the three were together. If Stamkos can make that type of difference in Point’s game without Kucherov there, the team’s top line will be dangerous again this year.
Kevin asks: Which players are realistically traded to meet the salary cap for next year?
After spending two summers in salary cap jail, I expect that the Lightning will be relatively free and clear next summer. The only forwards on expiring contracts are Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, and the only defender up for renewal is Luke Schenn. There’s simply not much that Julien BriseBois is going to have to do next offseason to keep his team together. Seattle’s expansion draft should allow them to clear a bigger-money deal, and the rest of the work will just be small tweaks. The real gymnastics will come the following year when Brayden Point cashes in, and Ondrej Palat comes due.
Galactic Stone asks: Losing a player of Kucherov’s caliber for an entire season is a huge loss for any team, but Lightning fans are left hoping that Kuch comes back healthy (or close to it) just in time for the playoffs, a la Patrick Kane.
My question is: What exactly do we know about Kucherov’s injury and the surgery that was done? Information like this is understandably hard to come by, but there really hasn’t been anything in the press other than “he had hip surgery at such-and-such surgery center.”
Part two semi-related question: If he comes back before the playoffs, what does that mean for the Lightning’s cap issues? Will they have to clear somebody out first to make room, or what?
My understanding is that the hip injury for which he received surgery is unrelated to the groin injury that was bugging him during the playoffs. Per the team, he first reported this new hip issue on December 3. Various outlets reported in late December that the surgery is similar to the treatment received by both Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde in recent years.
With respect to the cap, the short answer is that it depends on anything else that happens during the season. Given the team’s absolute reliance on Kucherov’s LTIR space to be compliant right now, however, it’s likely that an early return for the winger would necessitate a move to clear money. That’s why the team has been so emphatic in stating that Kucherov is out for the entire regular season, and that they only remain “hopeful” that he can return in time for the playoffs.
Eric asks: Can Tampa (Cooper) make Johnny look so good to entice other teams to acquire him?
I’m sure the team will be giving Johnson every opportunity available to show that he can still perform to the value demanded by his contract.
TommyGTrain asks: Mike – Tampa didn’t really solve their cap problem; they merely kicked the can to next year. How do you realistically see the situation playing out and getting resolved? Who gets removed from the roster? Do you think the Expansion Draft will help them?
I think you nailed it with the last part of your question. The expansion draft is they key that will let BriseBois put this puzzle together, for at least one more year. As mentioned above, there isn’t much work for the team to do in terms of signing anyone like there was this year. All of the work is going to be about clearing money in the right spots. Seattle presents a perfect opportunity to do that with relative ease.
If the team can get Seattle to jump on a contract like Ryan McDonagh’s or Tyler Johnson’s, even with a sweetener added, much of the issue is resolved instantaneously. The cap situation this past year scared me far more than the prospect of next summer.
Thanks to those of you who took the time to submit questions. As always, thanks for reading!