The Quest for Bish


By Kyle Sandulli
The Tampa Bay Lightning have had a lot of questions that needed answers this off season. There were UFAs aplenty and hockey legend Steve Yzerman has been implementing his Yzer-plan to the highest degree of efficiency. The contract Yzerman worked out with Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman were nothing short of miraculous – but there are still troubles plaguing the team.
Enter Ben Bishop. Two-time Vezina trophy finalist. Extreme athlete. Very tall. Probably loves dogs. At the end of the 2016-2017 season, he will become an UFA – and that spells trouble. Many speculated he would be traded during this off season to create more cap space for other contracts – such as Nikita Kucherov’s pending contract as he remains a RFA. But Bishop’s trade didn’t happen – he still remains with the team, ready to start alongside his backup Andrei Vasilevskiy. The fact that Bishop wasn’t traded creates a complicated situation for the Tampa Bay Lightning, mainly that they won’t be able to afford everyone for the 2017-2018 season (and don’t even get me started about the expansion draft). Kucherov is going to demand a hefty raise, and it is likely someone will have to be traded to make room for his new found riches.
Yet, even with a potential trade up and coming, the salary cap isn’t going away. The Lightning will still have a cap problem, and Bishop will still need a raise come the season’s end. So what is the solution? Andrei Vasilevskiy looked great in net when Big Ben was injured during Game 1 against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Perhaps Yzerman is hoping Vasilevskiy will step up to the challenge and fill some (very) big shoes for the team, and when he is good and ready, Bishop will be phenomenal trade fodder. If Vasy can’t step up to the challenge, though, Tampa will run into some issues as the trade deadline approaches on March 1st. Someone will have to go, be it Bishop, or someone we’d all rather not see leave, like Tyler Johnson.
At the end of the day, Bishop’s upcoming contract will cause problems, and that’s something we need to worry about in the future as an organization. But I think we can all agree that we’re very glad Matt Carle’s contract was bought out.
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What to do with Filppula


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By Joseph Justice

Tampa Bay Lightning Writer

 

 

The Tampa Bay Lightning are sitting on about 6.5 million dollars in cap space at the moment. Not factored into that 6.5 million are the contract negotiations on Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov. Kucherov, coming off of back to back excellent offensive seasons is due a raise that should eat up most of that number. There are some additional variables in play depending on depth roster moves, but it appears safe to say that the Lightning will break training camp with little to no salary cap space.

 

This leads to speculation that the team will move a player to generate flexibility. The two prime points of speculation are Center Valterri Filppula and Goaltender Ben Bishop. But trades involving either player present serious difficulties. For now, let’s focus on the Filppula situation.

 

Valterri Filppula was signed to a five year deal as a free agent prior to the 2013-14 NHL season. The signing filled a hole in the lineup left by the buyout of Vincent Lecavalier. Slotted to spend the next five seasons as the second line center behind Steven Stamkos, he had a very good first season in Tampa. The problem came in the form of Tyler Johnson. It seems doubtful that anyone within the organization really knew how well Johnson would perform at the NHL level. During the 2014-15 season, Johnson essentially displaced Filppula from the primary role he was hired to fill. With a broad skill set, Filppula has performed admirably in many other spots within the lineup. But those roles have also resulted in a decline in his production.

 

The Filppula situation now has two major issues that will need to be addressed. The first is simply that he makes too much money for the role he is currently playing. The Lightning have quite a few natural centers on the roster, who should be able to fill in at a reduced cost. The bigger issue is that Filppula also holds a no-movement clause. The clauses usually present some difficulty for GMs in this situation, but the upcoming expansion draft makes matters worse. Filppula will have to be protected (along with fellow forwards Stamkos and Ryan Callahan), leaving only four additional front line slots available. At this point the value of that extra slot is an unknown, but if any other Lightning forward has a breakout year it could turn out to be very valuable. While Yzerman has proven quite adept when it comes to handling these clauses, Filppula holds all the cards here. So what options are out there?

 

Option 1: Play Filppula. Hey that’s an easy option. The guy is still a strong player who makes Tampa deep down the middle. He can slot in almost anywhere in the lineup and is generally an asset. It also may help re-invigorate his trade value. The past few seasons have shown that Filppula is one of Coach John Cooper’s most trusted players. If the Lightning are all-in for trying to win the cup next season, Filppula helps them in this regard. But it may come at a heavy cost next summer.

 

Option 2: Though usually a plan of last resort, is a buyout. It is difficult to imagine the Lightning taking this option any time prior to next summer. The Kucherov negotiation does appear to be moving slowly, but there should be enough room available to get him under contract without a buyout of Fillpula. The buyout would also be more palatable with only one year left on his contract. One does have to wonder how ownership would feel about this option since Filppula and Matt Carle represent two of Yzerman’s largest free agent acquisitions.

 

Option 3: After considering the buyout, a trade that involves salary retention is not the worst idea. While Filppula may still be capable of playing at the level of his contract, his previous season will have his value reduced in the eyes of many GMs. To this end a trade with any retention less than 2 million dollars would still be better than a buyout. The aforementioned No-Movement clause is a major issue here. With many rosters close to set, there are not many teams that can take on his contract at full value. Of those, almost none of them present a comparably competitive roster to the one in Tampa. The Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes could certainly use a quality forward but the NMC would probably stop those. Looking around the league, the two best candidates look to be the Columbus Blue Jackets and the New York Islanders. Both teams could use an additional center, and Filppula’s two-way ability should appeal to both coaches. The problem in Columbus is that they will want to shed a contract in return and that roster has some surprisingly bad contracts. So by process of elimination, the New York Islanders appear to be the best possible trade partner.

 

Filppula is remarkable similar to Frans Neilson who they recently lost in free agency and The Islanders should be eager to avoid a step back following their first playoff series win in over 20 seasons. Though his production was down last year, Filppula had four points in the five post-season games against New York making him better showcased for that team than almost any other in the league. If there is a chance of making a deal, this might be the best opportunity.

 

Which option the Lightning choose will probably depend heavily on the Kucherov contract. Until there is news on that front the smart money is on the Lightning sticking with Option 1.

2016 Offseason Power Rankings


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Every month, Hockey Trade Central will be posting Power Rankings. They will be posted the 1st of every month during the regular season, and will reflect the previous month’s play.

 

The Power Rankings are voted on by the writers.

 

Offseason Power Rankings are based on how well the teams drafted, how well they did in Free Agency, and the trades the teams have made.

 

2016 Offseason Rankings:

 

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins /
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning +1
  3. San Jose Sharks -1
  4. Dallas Stars +1
  5. Washington Capitals +2
  6. Nashville Predators /
  7. Florida Panthers +4
  8. Chicago Blackhawks +2
  9. St. Louis Blues -5
  10. New York Islanders -2
  11. Anaheim Ducks -2
  12. Los Angeles Kings +3
  13. Philadelphia Flyers /
  14. Minnesota Wild -2
  15. Detroit Red Wings -1
  16. Boston Bruins +1
  17. New Jersey Devils +3
  18. New York Rangers -2
  19. Carolina Hurricanes -1
  20. Buffalo Sabres +3
  21. Ottawa Senators -2
  22. Montreal Canadiens /
  23. Calgary Flames +3
  24. Arizona Coyotes /
  25. Winnipeg Jets /
  26. Colorado Avalanche -5
  27. Edmonton Oilers +2
  28. Toronto Maple Leafs +2
  29. Columbus Blue Jackets -2
  30. Vancouver Canucks -2

 

Previous Rankings:

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins
  2. San Jose Sharks
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning
  4. St. Louis Blues
  5. Dallas Stars
  6. Nashville Predators
  7. Washington Capitals
  8. New York Islanders
  9. Anaheim Ducks
  10. Chicago Blackhawks
  11. Florida Panthers
  12. Minnesota Wild
  13. Philadelphia Flyers
  14. Detroit Red Wings
  15. Los Angeles Kings
  16. New York Rangers
  17. Boston Bruins
  18. Carolina Hurricanes
  19. Ottawa Senators
  20. New Jersey Devils
  21. Colorado Avalanche
  22. Montreal Canadiens
  23. Buffalo Sabres
  24. Arizona Coyotes
  25. Winnipeg Jets
  26. Calgary Flames
  27. Columbus Blue Jackets
  28. Vancouver Canucks
  29. Edmonton Oilers
  30. Toronto Maple Leafs

Trust the Yzerplan


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By Joseph Justice

Tampa Bay Lightning Writer

 

Trust the Yzerplan. That is the mantra down here in Tampa when it comes to personnel decisions. Since taking the position of General Manager in 2010, Steve Yzerman has shaped and reshaped the roster with a clear determination to build a winning organization. The results have been solid as the team has made at least the conference finals in three of his six seasons. Even with those results, faith in Stevie Y hit an all-time high when he won this year’s free agent frenzy by not losing. Yet.

 

Signing All-Star forward, and face of the franchise, Steven Stamkos to a manageable deal was almost too good to be true. Yzerman followed up by extending defenseman Victor Hedman long term. Both deals look like masterstrokes within the Yzerplan. However, the team will face major salary cap implications next offseason when key contributors Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Brian Boyle, Jonathan Drouin, and Ben Bishop all become free agents. And here is where Yzerman took a gamble. About an hour after the announcement of the Hedman extension, the Lightning announced another extension. Andrei Vasilevskiy, with a year left to go on his entry level contract, was given a three year extension at 3.5 million a season.

 

Hindsight is going to make an interesting bedfellow for this deal. The contract most likely signals that Ben Bishop is headed out the door in Tampa. A combination of cap space and the pending Las Vegas expansion draft apparently leave him as one of the odd men out. The 21-year-old Russian net minder is coming off a well-reviewed effort in the conference finals, and clearly possesses a ton of natural talent. But will that talent translate into a consistent starting goaltender? The point is that three or four years from now this extension will either look spectacular or terrible.

 

The body of work for Vasilevskiy is quite limited. He has only started in 34 NHL games, and about the same amount for the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. As someone who had never played on North American ice until two years ago, it means he is probably still adapting to the game. His raw numbers have been good, and due to Ben Bishop’s playoff injuries, He has even appeared in 12 playoff games (7 as the starter). However, his limited body of work makes predicting his future difficult at best. Here are a few past examples for comparison:
Player Starts Record Save % GAA
Goalie A 34 18-15-1 .913 2.60
Goalie B 28 16-13-2 .914 2.53
Goalie C 19 24-14-2 .909 2.34
Goalie D 34 10-13-4 .912 2.62
Goalie E 28 10-10-4 .916 2.55

 

Vasilevskiy is Goalie A, all the other goalies had fairly comparable bodies of work as all as backups. They all ended up as starters for the Lightning as well. They are, in order, Anders Lindback, Mike Smith, Dan Cloutier, and Marc Denis. It would be fair to say none of them worked out. That isn’t to say the same fate awaits Vasilevskiy, who is likely more talented than anyone in that group, it is simply to say that it is very difficult to predict what will happen when he becomes the full time starter.

 

Trust the Yzerplan, that is the mantra down here. Yzerman has earned that trust, but thanks to Vegas, he had to roll the dice on one of the most important decisions in franchise history. Now we wait to see how they land.

Atlantic Division Draft Day: Team Needs



By Bobby Bauders
Senior Writer/Editor

 

We’ll have four team needs stories highlighting the draft needs of the teams in every division. Written on June 23rd, any trades that happened after this story was written will not be mentioned in this story, therefore some draft spots may be outdated.

 

Our Updated Mock Draft

 

Boston Bruins:

1st Round Picks: 2

2nd Round Picks: 1

Total Draft Picks: 7

The Bruins have an aging defense. I expect them to try and replinish that in this year’s draft. Especially since Zdeno Chara’s days are likely numbered. Possibly Charles McAvoy or Jakob Chychrun if he’s available.

 

Buffalo Sabres:

1st Round Picks: 1

2nd Round Picks: 1

Total Draft Picks: 11

Buffalo needs to draft a defenseman here. They still don’t have their go-to number one defender. Expect them to take Mkhail Sergachev. He’ll fit in well with Buffalo’s system.

 

Detroit Red Wings:

1st Round Picks: 1

2nd Round Picks: 1

Total Draft Picks: 6

With the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, it’s clear Detroit needs to invest in their offense. Expect them to look at Kieffer Bellows, Max Jones, and Luke Kunin.

 

Florida Panthers:

1st Round Picks: 1

2nd Round Picks: 1

Total Draft Picks: 5

Florida has an aging forward core featuring the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen. They’ll likely draft a forward in this draft, maybe Alex DeBrincat or Brett Howden. Or maybe Rasmus Asplund or German Rubstov.

 

Montreal Canadiens:

1st Round Picks: 1

2nd Round Picks: 2

Total Draft Picks: 7

The Canadiens want a high-end scoring forward. Someone who handles the puck nicely, has good vision, and scores with ease. That player would be Pierre-Luc Dubois. He’ll unfortunately be gone before Montreal picks at 9, so they’ll have to trade up.

 

If they stay at 9, they’ll likely choose Clayton Keller or Logan Brown.

 

Ottawa Senators:

1st Round Picks: 1

2nd Round Picks: 1

Total Draft Picks: 6

Ottawa has a fairly old team all around. They could use a scoring winger or a shut down defenseman in this draft.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning:

1st Round Picks: 1

2nd Round Picks: 2

Total Draft Picks: 9

I see Tampa going after defense this year. Their offense is good for a few years, and they likely want to strengthen their blue line’s future.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs:

1st Round Picks: 1

2nd Round Picks: 2

Total Draft Picks: 11

The Toronto Maple Leafs need Auston Matthews. Plain and simple. They’re going to select him, that’s obvious. In about 3 years, he will turn Maple Leaf hockey around. The Leafs will finally get their number one center.

 

They also have some holes on defense that they are expected to fill up with trades. Not to mention they’re actually quite cap-squeezed.

 

Steven Stamkos Free Agency Destinations


By Bobby Bauders
Senior Writer/Editor

Steven Stamkos is probably done in Tampa Bay, unless General Manager Steve Yzerman can somehow get a deal worked out and still be able to re-sign his massive load of impending free agents next offseason. More info on that here: Where’s Steven Stamkos going?

Given the likelihood of Stamkos hitting the open market, let’s explore where the 26-year-old center may end up. We’ll look at the front runners, and then some surprising dark horses.

 

Front Runners:

Toronto Maple Leafs:

First of all, Stamkos will not sign with the Leafs. Sorry Toronto fans, but you’re getting your future number 1 center in Auston Matthews. If Stamkos hits the open market he’s going to be the most sought after free agent in recent memory, including teams who are MUCH closer to the Stanley Cup than Toronto. The Maple Leafs are rebuilding, they’re not in win-now mode, and won’t be for a few years. Stay patient Leafs fans, your time will be here soon. Now the Maple Leafs would be able to offer Stamkos a very lucrative salary with the Phaneuf cap dump, but I just can’t see Stamkos signing with someone who is as far away from the Stanley Cup as Toronto is. As wonderful of a fairy tale story this may be to bring hometown boy Stamkos back to Toronto, I just don’t see it happening.

 

Detroit Red Wings:

With the departure of Pavel Datsyuk back to Russia, the Detroit Red Wings are going to need a first line center. The Red Wings are significantly closer to the Cup than the Maple Leafs are, being that they were just in the playoffs whereas Toronto posted the worst record in the league. Still, with the cap situation, it may be difficult to get a deal worked out with Stamkos. Detroit is still liable for Datsyuk’s contract until next year, which carries a $7.5 million cap hit. Unless the Wings find a way to trade Datsyuk’s contract, which will cost them valuable draft picks/prospects, Stamkos will not be coming to Detroit. Not to mention that Stamkos is still fairly young, and the Red Wings are showing many signs of slowing down, and may not be in contention much longer.

 

Montreal Canadiens:

The Montreal Canadiens have emerged as another front runner. I can’t really imagine why as they’d be in cap hell. Before re-signings that would occur, they currently have about $7 million in cap space. That in itself isn’t even enough to sign Stamkos as he’ll require at least $8.5 million. Not to mention that Alex Galchenyuk is a RFA next season and will want more than what he’s currently making at $2.8 million. The only way if the Habs sign Stamkos is if they trade either Andrei Markov or Jeff Petry or both, but I don’t see many GMs knocking down Marc Bergevin’s door in order to acquire either of them.

 

Buffalo Sabres:

This is another interesting option. Stamkos should be interested in Buffalo because of their ability to pay him and their bright future, but I don’t see why Buffalo would be inrested in Stamkos, quite frankly because of their bright future. They have offensive prospect after offensive prospect in the Sabres system. Buffalo should stay patient with their current crop, which will bring them a lot of success in the future. Overloading on one position hardly ever works in the long run, as it really strains a team’s cap situation. I don’t see the point in this franchise log jamming the center position with Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Zemgus Girgensons. Yes some of those players can play on the wing, including Stamkos if you think about it with his sniping ability, but Buffalo already has plenty of forward prospects. But you know what, if Tim Murray has a plan for how Buffalo will deal with this log jam, I say go for it. It’s not easy to not offer Stamkos a contract when he’s there for anyone’s taking. Should they sign Stamkos, Buffalo will have to decide on their number 1 and number 2 centers, and then either trade the rest or move them to the wing.

 

Dark Horses:

Arizona Coyotes:

I know I said that Stamkos won’t want  to sign with Toronto because of their distance from the Cup, and the Coyotes may look just as far away, but they’re not. Without Stamkos, I predicted they’d be in the playoffs in 3 years. Not saying they’re winning the Cup in 3 years, but they’ll be a serious threat. Adding Stamkos to the mix? Wow. The Coyotes recently hired a new GM who will be eager to place his stamp on the team. What better way to do that than signing Steven Stamkos? I’m not saying he’ll sign with the Coyotes, it’ll be a tough sale given their shaky arena situation, but they do have a selling point in their prospect pool. And they have the cap room, around $30 million currently available. GM John Chayka should at the very least contact the Stamkos camp and gauge their interest when talks can start on June 25th.

 

Boston Bruins:

Now the Bruins are quite loaded at the center position with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, but Stamkos will likely listen to offers. That’s why I’m including them: they’re one of the only decent teams with anywhere near enough cap room. They currently sit at around $18.5 million, but have to think about re-signing Loui Eriksson. But that’s a whole different story, as Boston and the Eriksson camp have been talking for months reports say that there hasn’t been any progress. So if Boston decides to let Eriksson walk or trade his rights, hello Stamkos?

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning:

Tampa Bay is the definition of dark horse in this situation. I don’t see how they can re-sign Stamkos, it’s just not realistic given next year’s cap situation. Steve Yzerman would have to work a miracle. The reason I’m listing them is because Tampa is still trying to figure out how they can re-sign him, but it doesn’t seem likely at this point.

Where’s Steven Stamkos going?


By Bobby Bauders
Senior Writer/Editor

Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is in quite a predicament with Steven Stamkos. Obviously losing talent like that can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if he walks for nothing.

Currently without Stamkos, Tampa’s cap situation sits at round $19 million. That doesn’t seem so bad. The problem isn’t this year, it’s next year. The following players will need to be re-signed next offseason, and it’s safe to say they’ll all want substantial raises: Tyler Johnson (RFA), Ondrej Palat (RFA), Jonathan Drouin (RFA), Victor Hedman (UFA), Ben Bishop (UFA), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (RFA). Although it’s safe to say Bishop will probably be dealt soon or by the next trade deadline, given the expansion situation. All these re-signings, plus a rumored $8.5 million cap hit for Stamkos will make it impossible to keep every single player.

This poses another question: Is it worth it to keep Stamkos? Stamkos was sidelined in April due to blood clots, and missed all playoff games except for Game 7 against Pittsburgh. The Bolts made the Eastern Conference Final, and had the eventual Stanley Cup Champions on the brink of elimination without Stamkos. So why should you break the bank and break up the group of players who have proven they can win together? Obviously Stamkos makes Tampa Bay better, but they’ve proven they can survive, and even thrive without him.

SO let’s assume Yzerman does re-sign Stamkos. Some key players, including Stamkos, will have to be moved either at the deadline or next year’s draft. Yzerman isn’t very keen to the idea of letting any quality player walk for nothing. If any Stamkos deal is to be done, it would likely be at next year’s draft in order to sign the core of the Tampa squad.

Stamkos is very aware of the cap situation next year. This is likely the reason a deal hasn’t been reached yet: he knows he’ll probably be moved next offseason. If he walks he can at least choose where he plays. Obviously a contract would have some sort of no movement clause, but even with a list of acceptable teams provided by Stamkos, Yzerman will still make the final decision.

Steven Stamkos becomes an UFA on July 1st, and teams can start contacting him on June 25th. If a deal isn’t worked out Tampa by the draft, expect Stamkos to test the free agent waters.

As for whoever signs Stamkos, they’ll be a lucky team. Rumored interest comes from the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, and a few other dark horses.