Even if you were the most dedicated fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning, there’s no way that you would have guessed at the start of the season that Ross Colton would be the player to score the 2021 Stanley Cup-winning goal. While there were rumblings that he could make the jump to the NHL for the 2020-21 season, he was just a fourth-round pick at the 2016 draft who spent the better part of the last four seasons with the University of Vermont and the Syracuse Crunch posting solid but modest scoring totals.
Once he was given an opportunity to play with the Lightning, however, Colton showed that he was more than ready to take a bigger role with the franchise. While he bumped up and down the lineup throughout the regular season, he eventually took over a starting role in the playoffs, starting in all 23 games and scoring four goals and six points, including the aforementioned clinching tally in the Final.
After making such a splash in his rookie season, Colton has put himself firmly in the conversation to be part of the Lightning’s future. Barring an injury, he should be a lock on the bottom-six, likely taking over one of the spots vacated on the third line after Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, and Yanni Gourde all departed the franchise this offseason. Given his strong play, he could act as a sparkplug for the franchise, helping to push the team forward through even the toughest of situations.
While his future may be clear with the Lightning, this doesn’t mean that things are set between player and franchise. After failing to come to terms on a new contract, Colton was one of 17 players in the NHL to file for arbitration on Aug. 1st, meaning that he and general manager Julien BriseBois are not on the same page about what his value to the team is. While this may sound like an imposing setback in their negotiation, it is a common enough occurrence that doesn’t indicate that there is any bad blood between player and team, just that the two sides are not quite on the same track when it comes to what his current contract should look like.
What Could a New Colton Deal Entail?
When you look at what Colton could be worth to the Lightning, you can understand why there may be a bit of a discrepancy in this discussion. For BriseBois, he is looking at a 24-year-old player who only has 30 regular-season NHL games under his belt. While he posted an impressive nine goals and 12 points in those games, that is still an incredibly small sample size to give a big raise over, especially if he is expecting to take on third-line minutes.
For example, while Goodrow played on Tampa Bay’s third-line, he carried a $925,000 cap hit while posting six goals and 20 points in 55 regular-season games. Coleman, on the other hand, carried a $1.8 million cap hip to produce 14 goals and 31 points in 55 games played.
With those numbers in mind, I could see BriseBois looking at a player like Colton and not wanting to go much above Goodrow’s cap hit, as he could be the low-end output in a third-line role. So, he may be thinking this extension should be in the $1 million per year range.
If you’re Colton, however, you may be looking for an extension that puts you in the range of Coleman, as his upper-end potential would be a 15 to 20 goal-scoring pace over a full season. With this in mind, he might think that he should be worth a $2 million extension, especially given his strong postseason play.
Colton Should Factor Into Lightning’s Near Future
One area where both Colton and the Lightning will likely be on the same page is the length of his next contract. Given the flat cap and his experience, it seems unlikely that either side would want a deal lasting much longer than two to three seasons. This would give him the time needed to prove his full worth in the NHL while allowing Tampa Bay the time to evaluate his future with the franchise.
Depending on his performance, this could lead to a big five-plus year deal down the road with the Lightning, or it would allow Colton to depart the team before he turns 28-years old to test free agency. By that time in his career, it should be clear to BriseBois where he fits into the organizational depth chart.
So, with all of this in mind, what could Colton’s deal look like? Using what we know, a two-year, $1.25 million per year contract would seem right for the situation, as it would allow the Lightning to fit him under the cap while giving him a decent raise in the process.
While this total could creep up to the $1.5 million range, anything more than that would be hard to fit under the salary cap right now. If Colton is expecting his new contract to be in the $1.75 to $2 million range, then this negotiation may drag on for a little bit longer, potentially until Aug. 16th when his case is due to be heard.
Either way, though, expect Colton to be an impact player for the Lightning in the 2021-22 season. He is primed to continue his breakout in a more defined role, and should factor into the near future and continued success of the franchise.
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.