Lightning face challenge with roster because of NHL salary cap, GM says

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TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning will compete for a third consecutive Stanley Cup title next season and remain a contender in the future, but there likely will be roster changes because of the NHL salary cap and the upcoming expansion draft, general manager Julien BriseBois said Tuesday.

“We have a Stanley Cup-winning roster and our challenge to maintaining that roster is the salary cap,” BriseBois said. “So we’re going to have to get creative.”

Forwards Anthony Cirelli, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos; defensemen Erik Cernak, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev; and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy are likely to stay (all but Point are signed for multiple seasons).

Forwards Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn are the most likely candidates to be traded for salary cap purposes. Johnson, who will turn 31 on July 29, has three seasons remaining on his contract with a $5 million average annual value; Gourde, 29, has four seasons left at $5.166 million annually; Palat, 30, has one season remaining at $5.3 million annually; and Killorn, 31, has two seasons left at $4.45 million annually.

Forwards Blake Coleman, 29, and Barclay Goodrow, 28, and defensemen David Savard, 30, and Luke Schenn, 31, are among the Lightning unrestricted free agents.

The salary cap will remain at $81.5 million next season.

“The reality is as much as I would like to bring this team back exactly as is, and I would have faith they’re going to have a lot of success, the reality is we won’t be able to do that,” BriseBois said. “Mostly because of the cap, to a certain extent because there is an expansion draft coming up.

“Today I can’t tell you who won’t be coming back, which players won’t be coming back, because I don’t know for sure. But I know whoever won’t be coming back I will miss having them on our team.”

Coleman scored 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 55 regular-season games and 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games this season. Goodrow scored 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 55 regular-season games and six points (two goals, four assists) in 18 playoff games.

“It’s going to be challenging,” BriseBois said. “The reality is that those two players have earned substantial raises and we might not be in a position to be the one that gives it to them.”

The Lightning will also have to work out a contract with restricted free agent forwards Ross Colton and Alex Barre-Boulet, each 24. Colton scored in the 1-0 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens that ended the series. He scored 12 points (nine goals, three assists) in 30 regular-season games as a rookie and six points (four games, two assists) in 23 playoff games. Barre-Boulet scored three goals in 15 regular-season games and did not play in the playoffs.

Of more immediate concern to BriseBois is which players the Lightning will protect in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft presented by Upper Deck for the Seattle Kraken on July 21.

The Kraken will pick one player from each team, excluding the Vegas Golden Knights, for a total of 30. Each team can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie; or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie. Teams must submit their list of protected players by July 17.

BriseBois said he has spoken with Seattle about potential deals that could dictate who the Kraken would select from the Lightning in the expansion draft.

“The Seattle situation, it adds a nice wrinkle to our challenge this offseason,” BriseBois said. “Will there be deals before that? I would think there might be. We may be one of those teams, maybe not.”

BriseBois said he expects this to be a more active offseason in the NHL.

“There’s a lot of reasons why teams weren’t as eager to acquire players last offseason,” BriseBois said. “I think now we’re in a better place leaguewide. Looking into the future, I expect we’re going to be up and running back to normal by the fall. The sense I’ve gotten the last few days and spending a lot of time on the phone is that there’s an appetite to add players.”

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