The start of the 2019-20 season has been a weird one for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite flaming out in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, expectations were that the franchise would be a Stanley Cup contender due to the incredible amount of talent and depth on their roster.
As Tampa Bay approached the midpoint of their season, however, things were looking a bit questionable for the franchise. Once consistent factors like goaltending and special teams were letting the team down, costing them games that they would have easily won in the past.
The one player who has truly exceeded all expectations throughout the first half of the season is, by all accounts, Alex Killorn. The much-maligned forward has somehow found his complete game, providing game-changing playing time at all ends of the ice.
Now, the question becomes, is the just year just a fluke, or is Killorn finally becoming that dominant forward that he was expected to be for the Lightning?
What Has Killorn Done in 2019-20?
Before we talk about what Killorn’s future could be in Tampa Bay, let’s look at what he has done so far this season. Through 38 games, he has posted 16 goals and 35 points. Considering that his career highs are 19 goals and 47 points, he is well on track to set all of his personal scoring records.
The month of December was one of Killorn’s best with the franchise, as he earned player of the month status due to some fantastic play. As said by Jacob Lynn of NHL.com:
In 13 games played in December, Killorn scored nine goals and added eight assists for a team-high 17 points. He also led the Lightning with three game winning goals last month.
In all, even if Killorn doesn’t score another point the rest of season, the 2019-20 season would still be one of the best in his seven-plus year career.
Is Killorn Just on Another Streak?
Now, the question for the Lightning becomes, is this the Killorn of the future, or will 2019-20 be just a fluke? Given the nature of his career so far, there’s a genuine reason to believe that he could return to his normal 15 goals, 40-point standard next season.
Throughout his career, Killorn has been one of the streakiest players in the NHL. He will score four or five goals in the course of a week, then disappear for a month, only posting a few points while providing little positives on the ice.
What makes this season so unique for Killorn is that he hasn’t been on a streak. He has been consistently scoring, and even on the nights when he doesn’t contribute on the scoresheet, he is making a noticeable impact on the ice.
Can the Lightning Afford to Keep Killorn?
Due to his strong play, the Lightning will have to make a serious decision this offseason. See, Killorn has three-years left on the seven-year, $31.15 million contract he signed back in 2016. But starting in the 2020 offseason, Killorn’s full no-trade clause (NTC) expires and a modified NTC kicks in, making his $4.45 million cap hit moveable.
If Killorn were still producing at his normal scoring rate, the Lightning would likely have trouble moving on from his contract. Coming off a career year, however, they may be able to flip him for a premium return, similar to how they got a first and third-round draft pick for J.T. Miller.
So, assuming that he continues to play at his career-best pace, the Lightning have two options for Killorn at the end of the season. They can either keep him and hope that this career-year was not a fluke, or they can trade him to clear some needed cap space.
Given that Killorn’s $4.45 million cap hit is a bargain for his current play, suggesting a trade may seem a bit foolhardy. Considering his career, however, it would make sense to try and sell him at a premium, instead of hoping that his strong play continues in the 2020-21 season.