For the Tampa Bay Lightning, change has come during the 2021 offseason. While most of these changes came in the form of trading former a franchise face, losing Yanni Gourde in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, and seeing a handful of key free-agents depart to greener pastures, some of this roster turnover involved new names joining the Lightning.
Even if they were hard up against the cap, general manager Julien BriseBois managed to open up enough space to make a few low-risk bets in free agency. None of the players he added are top-billing stars, but they do address a few key areas as the Lightning look to compete for a historic third-straight Stanley Cup.
So, with these new names joining the franchise, let’s take a look at who BriseBois targeted to help the Lightning stay on course and competitive for the upcoming season.
Lightning Go Bargain Hunting for Veteran Talent
Heading into free agency, it was clear that the Lightning needed to add a veteran goaltender on a relatively cheap contract. While there were a number of options on the board that fit this description, BriseBois signed 14-year veteran Brian Elliot to a one-year deal after he spent the last few seasons acting as a backup for Carter Hart while playing for the Philadelphia Flyers.
While Elliot’s best seasons may be behind him, he is a perfect fit for the Lightning right now. The franchise doesn’t need a starter, just a stable backup who can support Andrei Vasilevskiy for 25 to 30 games next season. Given his playing totals in recent years, that shouldn’t be an issue for Elliot.
On defense, the Lightning brought back former Bolt Zach Bogosian to a three-year, $2.8 million contract. While a three-year deal might seem a bit long, in his short stint playing for the team in the 2020 Bubble, Bogosian was a great fit on the roster. Even if he wasn’t always perfect, he will be well worth his $800 thousand cap-hit, barring a major injury knocking him out of the lineup for a significant amount of time.
Finally, to fill out the forward corps, BriseBois signed Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Cory Perry to identical two-year, $2 million contracts. While both players are 36-years old and don’t offer much in the way of offensive potential, these signings aren’t meant to add more firepower to the roster. No, the point of these signings are to make the Lightning harder to play against in the postseason, where you can have these two tough-as-nails forwards running amock alongside Pat Maroon in your bottom-six, making life miserable for your opponent.
Brisebois Had a Clear Plan for Free Agency
Change is always hard, but eventually, every NHL franchise will bleed talent in the salary cap world. Despite the limitations in place, BriseBois has done an admirable job injecting some needed veteran talent into the Lightning’s lineup without breaking the bank.
With the addition of Bellemare and Perry, there will now be real competition for young players like Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh to break into the starting lineup. If they come out and impress in training camp, they could easily force one of these veterans down the depth charts. If they struggle, however, the Lightning will have a consistent veteran presence to plug into the lineup.
However, the most important signing out of this group may be Bogosian. Throughout the 2020-21 season, the Lightning looked relatively thin on the right-side of their defensive unit, which eventually led them to pay a premium at the trade deadline for David Savard. If Bogosian can return to the lineup and take on a steady bottom-six role, that will immediately make the team better. This roster doesn’t have many major weaknesses, so being able to patch up this issue at a reasonable cap hit is a big win for the franchise.
Even if these signings may not be particularly sexy, they are smart additions to the roster by BriseBois. Each one makes sense in context to what the team is planning to do next season, and they all fit into the current roster puzzle that the Lightning are working through.
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.