For a cap-strapped franchise like the Tampa Bay Lightning, they have to get the most out of every contract in order to keep their Stanley Cup-winning core together. Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Lightning were forced to make some major roster changes in order to get cap compliant once again throughout the offseason.
With much of their roster set as the final pieces sign new contracts, we can look at the Lightning’s full landscape and see a team with a number of smart, value add signings to bring needed depth to their roster.
So, as the offseason continues on, let’s take a look at who have the three best contracts for the Lightning before the start of the 2021-22 training camp in a few weeks.
3) Erik Cernak – $2.95 Million Cap Hit for 2021-22
Since Erik Cernak joined the Lightning in a seemingly nothing trade deadline deal back in 2017, it can be easy to overlook just how important he has been to the franchise. After taking over a starting role with the team during the 2018-19 season, he has averaged more than 19 minutes of ice time each night throughout his first three seasons playing alongside Ryan McDonagh in Tampa Bay’s top-four.
With this ice time, Cernak has been that perfect gritty defenseman every franchise dreams of. He adds some needed strength and bite to the roster, and he is always near the top of the Lightning’s leaders in both the hits and blocks categories. Besides this, he has already played in 50 postseason games, a surprising feat given he is only 24-years-old.
Given what he brings to the ice each and every night for the Lightning, the three-year, $2.95 million bridge deal Cernak signed back in the 2020 offseason is an absolute steal of a contract. It would be almost impossible for Tampa Bay to replace his production at that cap hit, and they don’t have to worry about his next extension until 2023.
2) Brayden Point – $6.75 Million Cap Hit for 2021-22
To put it simply, Brayden Point is a star. Since the 2017-18 season, he has scored at least 20 goals each season and would have easily hit 30 goals scored had an entire 82-game schedule been played. In the playoffs, he cemented his star status by being a key offensive figure for the Lightning, posting back-to-back 14 goal campaigns, including a near-historic nine-game scoring streak in 2021.
This impressive scoring output has caught the attention of the NHL, with many now being keenly aware of what Point brings to the Lightning. If a player of his caliber were to hit free agency, he would easily command nine to ten million dollars each season, given his dominant play as a center. So, to avoid this possibility, Tampa Bay moved quickly to sign him to an eight-year, $9.5 million per year contract during the 2021 offseason.
The good news for the Lightning is that this contract doesn’t kick in until next season, meaning that they have Point under contract for one more year at the bridge-deal rate of $6.75 million. Given what he has done so far in his career, that is a true value deal, even if it is just for one more season.
1) Victor Hedman – $7.875 Million Cap Hit for 2021-22
As long as Victor Hedman is on the Lightning’s roster at his current cap hit, he will hold the team’s best contract. When Tampa Bay signed their top defenseman to an eight-year, $63 million contract back in 2016, they believed that they were buying the best years of what looked like a true superstar NHL defenseman.
Since the 2015-16 season, Hedman has been nominated for the Norris Trophy five times, won the trophy once, reached the All-Star game five times, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With his superb play and accomplishments, Hedman could easily demand $10 to $11 million if he were going to become a free agent right now. However, with a deal paying him a relatively modest $7.875 million through the 2025 season, he is taking a slightly smaller check to stick with a team that he has truly thrived with.
Lightning Find Value in Their Contracts
One of the reasons why the Lightning have found so much success in recent years is by making smart decisions while re-signing their top players. While they aren’t afraid to throw around big contracts when needed, they tend to keep them a little bit below what would be considered “full-market value,” and they will utilize a bridge deal before locking up their young star players for the long term.
This strategy has worked so far, as the Lightning have done a great job retaining their drafted and developed talent while assembling a Stanley Cup-winning roster. Given these great value contracts, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t continue to be competitive for years to come.
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.