Over the course of the last decade, the Tampa Bay Lightning have assembled one of the top rosters in the NHL. Despite a disappointing finish in the 2019 playoffs, their 62 regular-season wins put them in elite company in terms of hockey history.
This dominant roster is defined by a number of smart contracts which allowed the franchise to lockdown star players at a relatively reasonable cap hit. While many of these players are entering big-money deals now, they still are relative bargains compared to what their counterparts are being paid across the league.
With this thought in mind, what are the Lightning’s best contracts? Is it the stars who took less to stay with the team, or the role players who are contributing each night off the scoresheet?
#4: Kevin Shattenkirk
One of the Lightning’s most important contracts heading into the 2018-19 season is also one of their most recent. After Kevin Shattenkirk was bought out by the New York Rangers in late July, Tampa Bay swooped in and signed the veteran defender to a one-year, $1.75 million contract.
Despite the fact that Shattenkirk is coming off of a bad season with the Rangers, this contract is a thing of beauty for the Lightning. It is a no-risk signing that is not only affordable but gives the team a veteran option should they need a stop-gap on their top defensive pairing.
In the best-case scenario, Shattenkirk returns to form in his one-year deal, giving the team needed top-four depth. Even in the worst case, though, the Lightning could just put him on the bottom pair or waive him and let another team take a crack his minimal $1.75 contract.
A shrewd signing like this is a perfect move by Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. It is a cheap, effective contract that could prevent the team from making a desperation trade later in the season. For that reason alone, this is one of the team’s best contracts heading into the new season.
#3: Entry-Level Contracts
Normally, you wouldn’t consider a player on an entry-level contract (ELC) for a list like this. By the nature of an ELC, a player is likely going to be paid below their market value, meaning that they are almost always a bargain.
However, heading into the 2019-20 season, three of the Lightning’s best players are on an ELC. Rookies Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, and Erik Cernak fought their way into a full-time starting role throughout the 2018-19 season all while being paid less than $1 million each.
Given their production and play, all three of these players provide an invaluable role to the franchise, especially at their cap hit. By having these three young players in key roles, the Lightning are able to avoid paying a veteran three or four times their cap hit in order to fill a niche role for the franchise.
Related: Lightning: 2019 Top 4 Prospects
So, while it may be cheating to consider players on an ELC, in this case, their production per dollar is as important as anyone else on the Lightning’s roster.
#2: Nikita Kucherov
When the Lightning signed Nikita Kucherov to an eight-year, $76 million
After putting up 128 points en route to winning the Hart, Ted Lindsay, and Art Ross Trophy, Kucherov proved that he is not only the Lightning’s top forward but one of the best players in the NHL. While his $9.5 million cap-hit kicks in the 2019-20 season, he is still a bargain with that kind of production.
Even if Kucherov’s scoring totals regress this season, one should still expect him to break the 100-point mark while being the heartbeat of the Lightning’s offense. Given what some of his counterparts are making, that’s not a bad deal at $9.5 million throughout the prime of his career.
#1: Victor Hedman
There are few players in the NHL that can match Victor Hedman’s caliber of play. Over the course of the last three seasons alone, he has put up at least 50 points while earning his first Norris Trophy in 2018.
What is most impressive about this, though, is the fact that Hedman is playing the role of the Lightning’s top defender all while making $7.875 million each season. Given what other top defenders are being paid across the league, that cap hit is an absolute steal.
Two years into his eight-year, $64 million contract extension, Hedman has proven that he is, arguably, the most important player on the Lightning’s roster. Knowing he is signed for the next six seasons has to help every fan in Tampa sleep easy at night.
Lightning Filled with Smart Contracts
With the Lightning heading into a full-on cap crisis, having players signed to team-friendly contracts like these give the franchise much-needed flexibility to re-sign their young core of emerging stars. Even as they wait to find out what Brayden Point will cost, the franchise knows they can afford to keep him around with core players making below market value.