As the Tampa Bay Lightning developed a core of highly talented players over the course of the last decade, they consistently found ways to keep these stars around. By signing players to long-term contracts, they were often able to trade immediate cap hit for security, avoiding overpaying for their core.
This has created a somewhat interesting situation for the franchise as the 2019-20 season approaches. With the departure of Ryan Callahan and his albatross $5.8 million cap hit, the Lightning no longer have one definingly bad contract.
Instead, the team finds themselves with a handful of players who are signed to contracts that are just a little bit too long, paying them too much. None of these are backbreaking for the Lightning, but they still will create headaches for general manager Julien BriseBois in years to come.
So, who has the Lightning’s worst contract as we head into the 2019-20 season?
#3: Ondrej Palat
For as long as he’s been a member of the Lightning, Ondrej Palat has brought with him a style of play that simply makes the team better, even if it doesn’t always show up on the scoresheet. When it was time for Palat to sign a big contract back in 2017, then general manager Steve Yzerman gave him a well-earned five-year, $26.5 million extension.
At the time this was a reasonable contract, but the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons were not kind to Palat. Due to a series of injuries, he was only able to play in 52 and 64 games, respectively, while scoring 35 or fewer points each season.
If Palat can stay healthy, he could very well score 50 or 60 points while proving that he still is a top-tier player. The issue is, with an injury history and three years left at a $5.3 million cap hit, he could quickly become an anchor for the franchise.
The 2019-20 season could be a defining one for Palat. If he struggles with injury for a third-straight season, the Lightning may have to start looking to move on from one of their core players in order to clear cap-space space for the future.
#2: Yanni Gourde
If you look purely at the numbers, Yanni Gourde’s six-year, $31 million contract isn’t that bad. In his first two seasons in the NHL, he scored 20-plus goals, while becoming a bit of a sparkplug for Lightning. Given what 20-goal scoring energy wingers make, $5.1 million isn’t too far off.
The main issue with Gourde’s contract is that every part of it is just a little bit off. Had he been signed to, say, five-years, $4.8 million, then he would be just another good contract for the Lightning.
Since he is being overpaid, everything Gourde does this season will be put under a microscope. As a player who has traditionally succeeded by coming out of nowhere and shocking both the opponent and the fanbase, this extra attention may hurt his typically solid play.
If he can continue to score 20 goals a season, though, he will at least have a tradeable contract, as there are teams out there willing to take a risk for consistent goal-scoring.
#1: Alex Killorn
If you look at Alex Killorn’s statistics over the last four seasons, you will see a player who misses very little time that scores between 15 to 19 goals while posting 40 or so points. Given that his cap hit is only $4.45 million, he should be seen as a player whose contract is perfectly in line with his production.
The issue with Killorn, though, is that he is anything but consistent. Each season, his play swings wildly back and forth, going from dominant power forward for a few games to completely invisible for the better part of a month.
This maddening inconsistency only creates a greater concern when you consider the fact that Killorn still has four years left on his seven-year contract. As he continues to grow older, his play will likely degrade or, at the least, become even more inconsistent.
So, it’s not that Killorn’s contract is explicitly bad. It’s just that, for his term and cap hit, he isn’t a consistent, positive presence for the Lightning each night. Sure, he can have flashes of brilliance, but those flashes are few and far between throughout the season.
Lightning’s Bad Contracts Aren’t Cap-Breaking
As stated at the start of this article, the Lightning’s ‘worst’ contracts heading into the 2019-20 season really aren’t all that bad. Many of the players in question can be well worth their higher cap hits and term as long as they stay healthy and show some consistency on the ice.
Starting in the 2020-21 season, though, these veteran contracts may become an issue, with as many as five Lightning starters coming off their entry-level contracts. Until then, Tampa Bay fans will just have to enjoy the players that they have, assuming everyone is signed and ready to go for the start of the season.
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.