For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2021 Stanley Cup was won on borrowed time. By manipulating long-term injury reserve cap relief, general manager (GM) Julien BriseBois was able to push back sweeping roster changes after winning the 2020 Stanley Cup.
Now that the celebration is done and it is officially the 2021 offseason, the Lightning can no longer delay the inevitable. With a handful of key players hitting unrestricted free agency, the looming Seattle Kraken expansion draft, and the fact that the team is still over the cap, major changes will have to come to the franchise.
It’s not just armchair GMs who are speculating about what will happen, though. Even BriseBois himself is admitting that difficult choices will have to be made this offseason.
“That’s our puzzle,” BriseBois said on Lead Off, “The reality is, we won’t be able to bring back the same roster as this year. Some players who are free agents will walk… and other players who are under contract I’ll have to trade or lose in the expansion draft.”
Lightning Will Still Be Competitive Despite Losses
When it comes to the actual moves that could be made this offseason, one would expect key contributors like Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, Ryan McDonagh, and Ondrej Palat to be potential targets on the trade block. These players are on contracts that aren’t necessarily overpriced for their services, but they all can’t be retained with their cap hit.
Outside of those players, it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see BriseBois looking at moving captain Steven Stamkos, who is the face of the franchise but carries an $8.5 million cap hit for three more seasons. While a trade like that would be incredibly difficult to pull off, it is one that has to be explored given Tampa Bay’s current situation.
Change is never easy, especially for a franchise like the Lightning that has been hitting the ice with many of the same core players for the last eight years. This core ushered in a new era of success and relevancy unlike any other in the team’s history, which reinvigorated the market and made hockey a pillar of the Tampa Bay sports scene.
While these losses will hurt the Lightning, both on the ice and emotionally off it, they won’t spell the competitive end for the team. With star players still under contract and solid starting options developing in the AHL, Tampa Bay should be able to retool their roster and fight for the Stanley Cup for years to come.
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.