What a week it was for the Lightning and their fans. There have been multiple signings, trades and draft selections. Here is my take on what’s transpired.
It’s not shocking that Ryan Callahan, who was slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, elected to re-sign with the Lightning. What is surprising, at least to me, is that Callahan re-signed without entertaining offers from any other team.
It takes years for NHL players to earn unrestricted free agent status. Callahan just turned 29 and he’s been in the league since the 2006-07 season. But this was his first opportunity to sample multiple offers. It would have been perfectly reasonable for him to wait until July 1 and weigh his options. Even if he ultimately decided to re-sign with the Bolts.
The fact that he opted to sign before July 1 is an indication that Callahan and his family very much enjoyed their time in Tampa after arriving last March. He liked it enough that he wanted to be a part of the organization for the next six years.
When Callahan arrived, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman gave him room to breathe. He didn’t begin contract negotiations during the season, instead giving Callahan time to see for himself what the Lightning organization was all about. It proved to be a wise course of action.
In this day and age of the salary cap, it’s hard to complete trades in which (close to) equal money doesn’t travel both ways. An exception is when one team is looking to shed payroll and another is willing to take on additional salary. Those were the circumstances surrounding the trade of defenseman Jason Garrison last Friday.
The Vancouver Canucks were trying to provide some payroll flexibility and determined that Garrision’s contract, with four remaining years, didn’t fit in their plans. The Lightning, in the market for a top-four defenseman, were willing to add Garrison’s salary. One factor in their willingness was their compliance buy-out of Ryan Malone, which opened up 4.5 million dollars in cap room.
Even with these unusual circumstances, this was a tremendous trade for the Lightning. They picked up a 29-year old defenseman who plays over 20 minutes a game. He’s a weapon on the power play (he’s got a booming shot) and will contribute on the penalty kill. Associate Coach Rick Bowness, who oversees the Lightning defense, coached Garrison in Vancouver two years ago and raved about his ability and his character. The newest Bolt will be an excellent fit. Plus, he’s locked up for the next four years at a price that works within the team’s payroll structure.
To obtain Garrision, along with unsigned prospect Jeff Costello and a 2015 seventh round pick (which was later dealt during the draft), the Lightning sent a 2014 second round selected to the Canucks. That was the 50th overall pick. Then, on Friday night, the Lightning sent the 28th pick to the Islanders for the 35th and 57th selections. So at night’s end, the Lightning had acquired Garrision and Costello and in return, all they did was move back seven spots in two of their picks (28th to 35th and 50th to 57th). Amazing.
As Lightning fans know, most draftees are several years away from donning an NHL jersey. Not too many 18-year olds are ready to jump right into the NHL. It’s going to take time to assess the seven Lightning draft picks from 2014.
But there’s a great deal of excitement within the organization about these selections. According to Lightning Director of Scouting Al Murray, first round pick Anthony DeAngelo was the best offensive defenseman in the draft. The Bolts were thrilled he was still available at pick 19.
One reason why the Lightning traded down from 28 was that they were confident they could get a player they wanted at 35. That player turned out to be Czech defenseman Dominik Masin. That deal with the Islanders also enabled them to select U.S.-born defenseman Jonathan MacLeod with the 57th pick. Both are tabbed as defensive defensemen.
In three other instances, the Lightning traded up. That’s an indication that they were targeting a specific player that they wanted – and got.
The first of those came in the third round, when the Bolts acquired the 79th pick to choose high-scoring forward Brayden Point. Then, in the fourth round, Tampa Bay traded two fifths for the 119th pick and took defenseman Ben Thomas.
After drafting gritty forward Cristiano DiGiacinto in the sixth round, the Lightning moved up to 185th (fifth pick in the seventh round) to select forward Cameron Darcy, who had 35 goals in the QMJHL last year.
At a glance, it appears that the Lightning drafted a good mix of players. While it’s hard to know what they’ll look like a few years from now (though Darcy, at 20 years of age, could turn pro this fall), fans can see them this week at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, where the Lightning will hold their annual Development Camp. It begins Wednesday and concludes over the weekend with a three-on-three tournament.
(Close To) Midnight Madness
Lightning beat reporters Erik Erlendsson and Joe Smith don’t normally have to worry about deadlines for stories in late June. But Sunday night was one for the ages. Well after the sun had set, the Lightning completed a series of deals, trading four players to three different teams. One of those, Sam Gagner, acquired from Edmonton in the Teddy Purcell deal, was only a member of the Lightning for a couple of hours. He was then dealt, along with B.J. Crombeen, to the Arizona Coyotes. Finally, Nate Thompson was sent to Anaheim. In return, the Lightning picked up three 2015 draft picks. Just as importantly, the Bolts opened up several million dollars in cap space.
As I mentioned in the section about the Garrison trade, it’s hard to free up dollars in today’s NHL. That difficulty, in part, explains the chronology of the deals. The Coyotes wanted Gagner, but not all of his salary. The Oilers wanted Purcell, but were reluctant to add salary. So the Bolts made an (almost) even salary trade with the Oilers, then sent Gagner to Arizona. The Lightning agreed to pick up one-third of Gagner’s salary. That’s just about the same amount as Crombeen’s salary. So the Coyotes got two players essentially for the price of Gagner’s full salary, while the Lightning freed up roster spots and cap space. As for the final trade, Thompson’s salary obviously wasn’t cost-prohibitive for the Ducks and he was a player they wanted to add.
It’s never easy to see well-liked, gregarious players depart. Purcell, Thompson and Ryan Malone have been regulars on the team for several years and Crombeen was with the Bolts for the last two seasons. I wish them all well. But these moves were not only about giving the Bolts some cap flexibility in case they are active in free agency. The Lightning have become an organization that drafts and develops its own. One byproduct of the draft-and-develop philosophy is the need to create roster space for your up-and-comers. Last year, Lightning fans saw how many of the youngsters performed with the Bolts. Now it’s time for more young players to fill those roles.
Of course, the fact that the Lightning have more room under the cap does raise the question of how busy they’ll be in free agency. As Yzerman told reporters yesterday, the Lightning won’t “act out of desperation”. If no more big moves are made, then the Lightning still have that extra cap room going forward. But if another UFA is added, well …. I guess I’ll have another column to write soon!
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