Lightning Risk Seeing Their Cup Window Slam Shut

All of a sudden the Tampa Bay Lightning’s acquisition of Barclay Goodrow looks even more expensive.

San Jose Sharks Barclay Goodrow Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby
Ex-San Jose Sharks forward Barclay Goodrow and Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby – (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Granted, the rugged forward’s contract expires at the end of next season. However, you have to believe general manager Julien BriseBois only agreed to give the San Jose Sharks a first-round pick to get Goodrow under the assumption the Lightning would be getting two kicks at the can instead of just one, should the rest of the 2019-20 NHL season be cancelled (under a worst-case scenario).

Lightning Strikes Twice at Trade Deadline

To be fair, the Lightning did get a third-round pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in addition to Goodrow (with minor-league forward Anthony Greco going back the other way). Plus, it’s not like BriseBois pinned all of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup hopes on Goodrow. Not only had he acquired Blake Coleman from the New Jersey Devils (for a separate first-round pick and prospect Nolan Foote), but the team as a whole is built to win now.

Of course, the recent acquisitions are nothing at which to scoff, seeing as they give the Lightning an element many analysts believe had been missing from their game. Especially in the wake of their unforeseen and embarrassing first-round sweep at the hands of the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets last spring.

Throw that loss out the window for the time being, though. Remember, the Lightning went a historically impressive 62-16-4 for 128 points last season. For all intents and purposes, this is the same team, just with more of an edge.

You admittedly might have to disregard their recent 3-6-1 stretch leading into the postponement of NHL action… and then imagine Steven Stamkos is suddenly healthy. Still, for all intents and purposes, they had been firing on all cylinders. After a mediocre start, they strung together 10 or more wins… twice. The Lightning are contenders anew. This is the team with which the Lightning should be able to go all the way. The time is now… or at least it was, until an act of God stepped in and forced them to take a lengthy detour.

Lightning’s Upcoming Cap Crunch

In similar fashion, the Lightning might require divine intervention to salvage their championship hopes as it won’t be the same team next season. Chances are good, unlike this season relative to last, it won’t be better either. Already close to the salary cap, the Lightning will see goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s eight-year, $76 million deal kick in. It alone represents a $6 million cap-hit increase. Sure, the cap was recently projected to increase to as much as $88.2 million for 2020-21, but that was before… all this. There is concern the current $81.5 million cap could stay the same, if not decrease.

Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)

Kevin Shattenkirk, who signed on for a bargain $1.75 million for this season as a reclamation project, has priced himself back out of their budget. Meanwhile forward Anthony Cirelli and defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak are due for raises and hefty ones at that, as pending restricted free agents. Needless to say, BriseBois would have to get creative to fit everyone in and this could get messy. Excluding Vasilevksiy for just next season (before his comes into effect), Brayden Point ($6.75 million hit) will be the only big contract without a no-trade clause of some sort.

So, the issue isn’t that Goodrow (and Coleman) won’t be back next season. They most assuredly will be. BriseBois will see to that, even if they would ironically be among the most marketable trade targets on the team. After all, their deals are also among the most cost-effective at $925,000 and $1.8 million per season, respectively.

Instead, the issue is that the likes of Tyler Johnson ($5 million hit for 31 points this season) and Yanni Gourde ($5.16 million for 30 points) will be back. Johnson has another four years on his deal and Gourde another five on his. They’re not horrible contracts per se, but getting rid of them would solve a lot of problems for BriseBois. Of course, just getting rid of them would be a problem as they each are entitled to submit a list of teams to which they cannot be dealt.

Johnson or Gourde Might Have to Go

In all honesty, both Gourde and Johnson make the Lightning a better team. In an ideal world, they would both stay on as they contribute to the offensive depth that make the Lightning so feared and so much of a legitimate contender. However, sacrifices must be made to first stay cap-compliant… and then keep the Cup within reach.

Tyler Johnson Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There are too many uncertainties floating around at this juncture regarding how the remainder of the NHL season will play out (if at all). Reasonably speaking, BriseBois must first know the exact salary-cap figure for next season before he makes any decisions as to how to proceed, but he should have few regrets over his trade deadline.

BriseBois had no way of knowing this brave new world awaited us all. He had little choice but to go all-in, considering the turnover destined for his roster this coming offseason, whenever that will be. Furthermore, even though he drastically overpaid for Goodrow, his and Coleman’s cheap contracts could prove to be the Lightning’s saving graces when it comes time to make everything fit.  

There’s little sugarcoating the Goodrow trade otherwise, but the Lightning can find comfort in the fact that the measuring stick for how successful of a deal it ultimately was remains the same. If they successfully kick that can the second time, it will have been the right move. BriseBois likely just has a few additional ones to make between now and then. He arguably choked at the mid-term, but the real test is yet to come.