Mike's Mailbag: Cap Issues, Alex Killorn's Production, Expansion, and More!
Thanks to everyone who took the time to submit questions to Mike’s Mailbag. Once again with a smaller batch than usual, I’ll have the ability to go into a bit more depth with my responses.
B asks: What is wrong with Killorn and which line is the best fit for him?
I’m not convinced that there’s anything particularly wrong with him at all, even if his tangible contribution numbers don’t exactly jump off the page. He’s a career ~0.5 point-per-game player, and is rolling along right around that clip right now.
The real story, though, is evidenced by his absurdly strong underlying numbers. He leads the Tampa Bay Lightning in five-on-five shot attempt share, and shows very strongly in the expected goals against category as well. If your belief is that he’s a competent middle-six winger who can deliver responsible minutes, he’s proving that to be true. While he hasn’t exactly been creating a ton in terms of offensive chances, he’s doing what the Lightning need him to do in order for them to have a chance to win.
In terms of the “best fit” for him in the lineup, I actually really like him with Tyler Johnson. That’s where Jon Cooper has played him the most this year, and it seems to be working. The with or without you numbers, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, suggest that Killorn works better with Johnson than he does apart from him. If, like me, you think that the Gourde line should stay as is, and that the Stamkos line should stay as is, Killorn playing with Johnson is also a very natural fit.
GalacticStone asks: Assuming Kucherov pulls a Kane and comes riding into the playoffs when the salary cap doesn’t matter, that will put the Lightning in a familiar position for the following offseason. They will be right back to desperately trying to dump camp to become compliant for the next regular season. (If they don’t jettison anyone via trade or waivers before then).
Unless Stamkos pull as a Kuch and goes on LTIR next season, who stays and who goes? The Lightning couldn’t give away Johnson for a bag of pucks because they had zero leverage. How do the Bolts avoid that trap again?
I think the big piece of the puzzle is the Seattle expansion draft. Assuming that the landscape looks substantially similar to that which existed when Vegas went through the process, there will be a significant volume of deals completed either directly or indirectly related to expansion itself. The Lightning will have an opportunity to pay (a premium, admittedly) to have Seattle take someone of their choosing. The Lightning will have the opportunity to swing deals with other teams, as well.
People keep pointing at Alex Killorn or Tyler Johnson as the obvious targets for movement, but the name that continually sticks out in my head is Ryan McDonagh. He’s been really good for the Lightning over the last two seasons, but his contract remains an albatross in the long-term. With Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev in the system, the *need* for McDonagh is less pronounced. None of that is to say that he’s not valuable or that the Bolts wouldn’t love to keep him, but $6.75M is $6.75M.
The other thing to note is that the Lightning aren’t going to be in a position where they have significant bodies to re-sign this coming offseason, unlike this past year. The core pieces will remain in place, which makes focussing on clearing cap room a little bit easier.
Easy E asks: Is there any chance of addressing cap issues now during the season? Move Killorn of McDonagh now, rather than waiting until the offseason? Johnson gaining any value with the way some teams are hurting because of injuries?
My hunch is that they’d like to give this core group another run at the Cup as is. Kucherov going onto LTIR for the season allowed that to happen, and it strikes me as unreasonable to think they don’t appreciate the opportunity. There will be time to clear cap space in the offseason.
With respect to Johnson, I do think that he’s shown that he can still be an effective player for an NHL team out there. He’s playing at a half point-per-game pace, boasts a 53.82% expected goal share per Natural Stat Trick, and sits second on the Lightning in terms of five-on-five shot attempt share. It seems crazy that any team in the league could have had him for free, and everyone passed. The market for him won’t be strong, but he’s doing enough to likely convince teams that he’s not completely done. If the Lightning are willing to give up an asset to move the contract, I expect they’ll be able to do so in the offseason.
Randall asks: I haven’t heard an explanation for the apparent rift between Alain Vigneault and Sean Couturier.
I didn’t even know there was a rift between those two, so you’re at least one step ahead of me.
As always, thanks for reading.