After winning the 2020 Stanley Cup, there will be no rest for Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. Part of the reason why the Lightning were able to reach their ultimate goal this year was due to contributions from a number of young, talented players who will be needing raises this offseason.
The problem, of course, is that Tampa Bay is currently experiencing a cap crunch. Building a roster capable of winning a Stanley Cup is expensive, especially when you have a core of veterans who earned meaningful contracts over the years.
Due to this, the Lightning are in a position where they need to move some core pieces in order to clear enough salary to lock down the next wave of talent. Despite being sellers in a buyers market, however, BriseBois still has pieces with value to work with.
According to TSN’s Hockey’s Trade Bait board, Tampa Bay have two of the top-20 players potentially available: Tyler Johnson at #18 and Alex Killorn at #19. So, if Johnson and Killorn are on the market, what could a trade look like for the Lightning?
Lightning Are Selling Low on Johnson in 2020
First, let’s take at look at the highest-ranked player on the Bait Board. Johnson is one of the more interesting players currently playing for the Lightning, as his story has become a bit of a legend for the franchise. In short, he helped continue the legacy of undersized forwards finding a meaningful role with Tampa Bay while being a major part of their rebuild back to relevance.
In recent years, however, Johnson has been a bit up and down. In 2017-18 he broke 20 goals and 50 points and in 2018-19, he tied his career high with 29 goals scored. However, in 2019-20, he only posted 14 goals and 31 points in 65 games.
Part of this scoring inconsistency is Johnson’s reduced role with the Lightning. Despite being a natural center, he has been pushed onto the wing as new stars emerged like Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli.
This makes it difficult to gauge Johnson’s trade value, given his $5 million cap hit and a no-trade clause that would need to be waived. So, if a team views him as a second-line center with 30 goal-scoring potential worth trading a draft pick for, he would have to agree to the trade, limiting options for BriseBois.
Even if Johnson agrees to a trade, Tampa Bay may need to sweeten the pot to get a team to take on the remainder of his contract. Given the premium being placed on cap space right now, this may make him unmovable without the Lightning giving up a pick or retaining some salary in return.
Lightning Can Trade Killorn at Peak Value
On the other end of the spectrum is Killorn, who is currently at the peak of his value. After signing a seven-year, $31.15 extension back in 2016, his play was largely inconsistent. Sure, there was stretches of dominance, but then he would go a month without scoring, causing him to never break 20 goals in his career.
That all changed in 2019-20, when Killorn finally put together a complete scoring season. In 68 games, he posted 26 goals and 49 points, putting him on pace to break 30 goals and 50 points for the first time in his career.
Given his $4.45 cap-hit, and a limited no-trade clause kicking in this offseason, BriseBois will have more options to trade Killorn than Johnson. With his prior season being so strong and a proven track record playing top-six minutes for most of his career, the Lightning could get solid value back on a deal.
Now it is always difficult to gauge exactly how good that value could be. For example, last year BriseBois traded J.T. Miller at the 2019 Draft, returning a 2020 first and a 2019 third while clearing his $5.25 million cap hit in the process.
Will Killorn see a similar return? It’s difficult to tell. But if the Lightning can get even a second-rounder in this deep draft while clearing some cap space, that would be a big win.
Expect Painful Trades From the Lightning
Over the last six-plus years, the Lightning have had a relatively stable core, with players like Johnson and Killorn being a part of this franchises’ return to prominence and eventual Stanley Cup victory.
As time marches on, change will eventually occur. Potentially seeing franchise faces like Killorn and/ or Johnson traded will hurt, but it would ultimately be the right choice if it allows a few of the younger players to stay in Tampa Bay.
The only thing more difficult that success is sustaining that success, after all. These moves would be tough, but they are moves that BriseBois needs to make in order to keep this team in Stanley Cup contention.
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.