Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is taking care of business this summer. Not only has he had a couple of RFAs put ink to paper (including Andrei Vasilevskiy on Friday), he brought Steven Stamkos back on an eight-year extension, the maximum term on a re-signing. Friday, he locked defenseman Victor Hedman into an eight-year extension as well.
The team’s top defender, Hedman was set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017, making July 1 the first day the Lightning were able to re-sign the Swedish defender. “For me, there was never a doubt,” Hedman said Friday on a call. “Staying in Tampa was the number one priority.”
That’s good news for the team, as Hedman’s $7.875 cap hit comes in a good sight lower than a defenseman of his caliber would draw on the open market. But both he and Stamkos seem to be keenly aware of the team’s tricky salary cap position and the challenges it poses to the future of the Lightning. “We’re a close group,” he said. “I played with Stammer now for seven years. Obviously we keep in touch. It’s big decisions for both of us. It all came down to both of us wanting to stay and be in Tampa
Yzerman: "With Stamkos & Hedman [signing], these are our cornerstones. Very important parts of our franchise and good guys to represent us."
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) July 1, 2016
“[Stamkos signing] made [my] decision way easier. We want to keep a competitive group and have a competitive team. Moving forward it’s going to be important for everyone to buy into that,” said Hedman.
His comments echo those of Stamkos on Thursday. Both are reticent to say too much, but aren’t shy about saying that players who want to win on this team right now are going to have to sacrifice. “We know it’s a tough game. We have a successful team,” said Hedman. “It’s going to come down to numbers and with the cap and everything it’s tough to keep the team together.
“For us to keep the team together it’s going to be, maybe, a little bit of sacrifice.”
The sacrifice here is clearly salary. Though, that sting is no doubt made a little easier by the income tax situation in Florida making these contracts the equivalent of much more lucrative deals (in terms of AAV) in states with higher income tax, which is the situation with almost every other team in the NHL.
Getting a deal done at the first possible moment allows Hedman to avoid a year of headaches and questions about whether he will re-sign. That’s something Stamkos dealt with until re-signing earlier this week. Stamkos said taking his time to make his decision was about ensuring that he made an informed decision and knew what was out there on the market for him. But it was also clear that it was a trying process for Stamkos, causing him “sleepless nights.” It was also a distraction for the team. Hedman saw that play out and avoids creating that film’s sequel by getting a deal done now.
Hedman’s new contract will start in the 2017-18 season, giving them one more year of his current sweetheart deal. The Lightning have a tough salary cap situation to navigate, particularly with a lot of young stars due new contracts this summer and next. Over the next two seasons Yzerman has to put together offers for Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Nesterov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Alex Killorn, Jonathan Drouin and Andrej Sustr. It’s no small thing for Yzerman to work out, and there will almost certainly be cap casualties.
Team-friendly deals from the team’s two biggest stars will help Yzerman find room for their burgeoning talent and also sends a message that a Cup is within reach with sacrifice, if that’s a priority of the individuals on the team. Hedman said it with his actions, but he reiterated it on the call in case it wasn’t clear. “Me and Stammer, we want to win together,” he said. “I want to be a Bolt for a very long time.”
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.