No matter what happens this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have a busy and likely stressful offseason. They have six restricted free agents (RFA) that could be re-signed, and they also have four unrestricted free agents (UFA) who they could potentially bring back for the 2020-21 season.
Of the four UFAs, three are defensemen: Kevin Shattenkirk, Jan Rutta and Luke Schenn. The only forward on the list is Patrick Maroon. Schenn and Rutta have bounced back and forth as the seventh defenseman, whereas Shattenkirk has had a bounce-back year, and Maroon is a fourth-line role player who has had an immediate impact both on and off the ice.
The Lightning will have just over $8 million in cap space, and with so many RFAs and UFAs, they will have to make some tough decisions. Here’s what general manager Julien BriseBois should do with each UFA.
Believe it or not, Schenn was taken just four picks after Steven Stamkos in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft (fifth overall). However, he never really panned out into the player he was expected to be, and he’s now the seventh defenseman on the Lightning. He has just one point in 14 games this season, a minus-8 rating and 13 penalty minutes, all while playing an average of 12:36 per game.
Schenn has not been good this season, and it would be a big surprise if the Lightning re-signed him. He hasn’t been productive in any aspect of the game, especially based on puck possession metrics — he has a minus-10.3 relative Corsi-for percentage (CF%). He’s been with seven teams in 12 NHL seasons, and he will likely have to find an eighth for his 13th season.
Rutta came to the Lightning in Jan. 2019 when they traded defenseman Slater Koekkoek to the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s been an average player this year, bouncing up and down the defensive pairings and he’s currently on the top pair with Victor Hedman. His 4 points in 18 games aren’t anything special, but he has a 56.9 CF% and 3.9 relative CF%, which are strong numbers.
If the Lightning have some cap space left, I could see them re-signing Rutta to a one-year, $1 million contract. Given that he will turn 30 this summer and only has parts of three seasons in the NHL, he likely won’t get more than a one-year deal from most NHL teams. The Lightning have some good defensive prospects, so if they decide to allocate more money to other RFAs or UFAs, Rutta likely will not be re-signed.
Maroon signed a one-year deal with the Lightning in Aug. 2019 after winning the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues. He’s the kind of player the Lightning needed — a gritty, chippy forward who wasn’t afraid to get in the dirty areas. He has 5 goals, 7 assists and 12 points in 33 games this season as a fourth-liner, and although those aren’t eye-popping stats, a player like him needs to be in every locker room.
If the Lightning have enough room, they should re-sign Maroon. He’s an impact player with his body and grittiness rather than his scoring, and that’s something the Bolts need more of. However, the issue is Maroon will probably want more than a one-year deal. He’s been on one-year contracts the past two seasons, and he will turn 32 in April, so having some sort of stability may be a priority. If it can be done, he should be back with the Lightning next season.
The Lightning signed Shattenkirk to a one-year deal in Aug. 2019 after he was bought out by the New York Rangers. He was looking for a fresh start after a tumultuous tenure with the Rangers, and that’s exactly what he’s got with the Bolts. In 35 games, he has 5 goals, 18 assists, 23 points, a plus-12 rating and is averaging more than 19 minutes of ice time per game. He also has a 55.8 CF%, which leads all defensemen with at least 30 games played.
So far this season, Shattenkirk has earned the right to be re-signed to a multi-year contract. He and Hedman created a dynamic duo on the top pair, and he’s now with Mikhail Sergachev on the third pair to help stabilize that line and mentor Sergachev.
Related: Is Signing Shattenkirk a Good Idea?
He was making $6.65 million per year with the Rangers, and while he won’t get that kind of contract with the Lightning, he could get a deal for three to five years with an average annual value around the $4 million or $5 million marks. Of all the UFAs on their roster, Shattenkirk is the one they need to push to re-sign most.