Coming off of back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, there is very little for the Tampa Bay Lightning or its fans to complain about. If there was one frustration however, it would be that they are a cap strapped team that has had to move on from some very solid players the last few years in order to keep their core group intact.
Despite losing some solid players, they are still one of the best teams in the league in 2021-22, and could very well win a third straight Cup this year. While they certainly aren’t worried about it right now, however, they will have to make some tough decisions once again with their roster this summer, including what to do with some soon to be free agents they have. Here are 3 that they will likely let walk.
Of all the significant losses the Lightning have had in recent years, Palat would be arguably the biggest of them all. The 30-year-old has been an excellent player for this team for nine straight seasons now, and has been great again in 2021-22 with 15 goals and 30 points in 38 games.
By all means, the Lightning would love to have Palat back on their roster next season, but unless they were to make a significant move prior to free agency, they will simply have no cap room for him. He is currently on a deal that pays him $5.3 million, which they wouldn’t be able to fit in next season given Brayden Points extension which kicks in for the 2022-23 campaign. On top of that, Palat has earned himself a raise and should get some very good offers if he does indeed hit free agency this summer, which appears more likely than not.
While he didn’t play nearly as significant of a role, Jan Rutta was also a part of the Lightning’s past two Cup victories. The 31-year-old, who was acquired in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2018-19 season, has been a solid depth option during his time in Tampa, but there are likely better options general manager Julien BriseBois can replace him with this offseason.
On the season, Rutta has suited up for 39 games, scoring two goals and nine points. He has been a healthy scratch on occasion, and has been used rather sparingly when in the lineup, averaging just over 14 minutes in ice time per game. Perhaps another NHL club will find value in his veteran leadership, but it seems quite unlikely he is back with the Bolts next season.
After two rough seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, it appeared as though Brian Elliott’s lengthy NHL career may have been coming to an end. However, the Lightning chose to sign the veteran netminder to a one-year, $900,000 to back up Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Through nine games played, Elliott has put up a 2.57 goals against average (GAA) along with a .907 save percentage (SV%). While those numbers aren’t outstanding by any means, they are significant improvements over the past two seasons. However, a deeper look shows those number are quite inflated by two very good games against his former team in the Flyers, as well as a recent one versus the San Jose Sharks. In five of his eight starts, he has a SV% below .900, which simply doesn’t cut it in today’s NHL. It is likely the Lightning look elsewhere for a back up this summer.
Lightning Core Will Remain Elite
While the loss of Palat would be an extremely tough blow for this team, all signs point to them being one of the league’s best teams once again in 2022-23. With a rejuvenated Steven Stamkos, along with the continued elite play from guys like Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and of course Vasilevskiy in net, there are few if any teams that have a better core than this group. There is a reason they are nearing dynasty status, and we shouldn’t expect them to slow down anytime soon.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.