It’s difficult to think of a more exciting and impactful 12 month period in Tampa Bay Lightning history than what has happened since August 1st, 2020. During that timeframe, the Lightning won a Stanley Cup in the bubble, experienced a busy offseason with a few important moves made to hold together their roster, played through a shortened season unlike any other in league history, won a second Stanley Cup in just 10 months, and then immediately had to prepare for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft along with the 2021 Entry Level Draft.
Needless to say, after all of this, general manager Julien BriseBois will need a break. However, before he can take a well earned vacation, he will have to navigate the perils of the salary cap. While the Lightning were able to manipulate the use of Long Term Injury Reserve to keep almost all of their core players together for the 2020-21 season, change is coming to the franchise.
One way that the Lightning can address their salary cap conundrum is through the expansion draft. With the guaranteed loss of a roster player to the Kraken, BriseBois knows that he has an opportunity to shed some salary by leaving a talented but relatively expensive player exposed so they can be selected. While this move will cause them to lose a productive player for nothing, that isn’t the worst-case scenario given the cap situation they are in.
However, with the reveal of their protected list of players, BriseBois’ plan has become all the more clear. He may not be looking to bribe Seattle general manager Ron Francis to take one of these talented players off their hands. Instead, he is daring the new franchise to pass on a proven veteran who can add legitimacy to their line-up immediately.
Lightning Exposing Veteran Talent Alongside Youth
See, for the Kraken, a young, high-upside option is on the table from the Lightning. With names like Cal Foote, Mathieu Joseph, Ross Colton, and Alex Barre-Boulet on the board, Francis can select a player that was largely buried by Tampa Bay’s depth who could become a breakout star for the franchise.
This system worked well for the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2017 Expansion Draft, as they took relative unknowns like William Karlsson, Alex Tuch, and Shea Theodore and gave them an opportunity to prove that they could be NHL stars. While not every pick they made was a hit, enough succeeded in their new roles that they were able to build a core of franchise faces out of these unknowns.
While Foote or Barre-Boulet could be this sort of player for Seattle, they are far from a guarantee. Young players are difficult to predict, and they could just as easily struggle in a bigger role as they could flourish.
However, when you have proven players like Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, and Yanni Gourde available to select, you would understand why Francis might be tempted to take them. These players may be on pricier contracts, but they would bring a winning pedigree to their roster. Not only have they played in hundreds of NHL games, but they are also leaders in the locker room throughout two Stanley Cup-winning runs. That sort of experience can be invaluable to a new franchise, especially if the Kraken decide to take mostly young players at the draft.
Lightning Are Taking a Gamble With Seattle
For the Lightning, the near-future of their roster will hinge on Seattle’s selection. If Francis selects a young, cheap player, then Tampa Bay will be losing them for nothing while receiving no meaningful cap relief in the process.
However, if BriseBois can convince Seattle to take on a veteran contract without having to give up a significant future asset, then it could be a major win for both franchises. For the Lightning, they would get the cap relief that they are desperate for, and for the Kraken, they would get a proven veteran who could become a face for the franchise to build around.
In reality, BriseBois is not playing with a full hand in this situation. Francis will control this conversation and he will likely attempt to extract every last bit of value out of the Lightning to take on a veteran contract. Given how their protected list looks, however, it appears that Tampa Bay may look to call the Kraken’s bluff in hopes that their veteran players are worth the pick, expensive contracts or not.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.