Time is ticking for the Bolts to make moves

The NHL Free Agency Period has been slow due to COVID, but the Lightning must act soon.

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Anthony Cirelli lifts the Stanley Cup in just his 3rd season in the league.

Alex Kajda, Staff Writer

The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup seven weeks ago, but even after all this time, the fate of some players still remains uncertain. The NHL’s free agency period began the following Friday, with some players not even having a week to celebrate before being moved. Veterans Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian both found new teams after staying with the Lightning for only a season, while rookie Carter Verhaeghe went down south to Miami to join the Florida Panthers. Despite this, those minor moves were expected, but the big ones were expected to come.

The Lightning have an overload of talent and young players, which was already causing their cap space to be very tight. However, the NHL cap space usually increases a few million each season, allowing teams to plan ahead for how they’re going to manage their roster. But with COVID-19 and the league pausing mid-season and losing revenue without fans, the NHL had to institute a flat cap for the next season, meaning that the cap space will remain the same for this upcoming season and possibly the next. This issue has many teams in what can be referred to as “cap hell” and the Lightning certainly find themselves a part of that with only $2.8 million in space.

The two main players the Lightning need to re-sign are 22-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and 23-year-old center Anthony Cirelli. Both players are restricted free agents this season and have major potential, with Sergachev being a defenseman on the rise and developing into a star. Cirelli is quickly emerging as one of the league’s best 2-way forwards, finishing at 4th place for Selke Trophy voting as the league’s best defensive forward. Both players could receive contracts upwards of 6-7 million dollars per year, but the Lightning must figure out how to get room to sign at least one of them.

Their first attempted move to free cap space was to trade forward Tyler Johnson, who modified his “no trade” clause to find another team. The Lightning were unable to find a suitor, however, and placed Johnson on waivers on the first day of free agency as a last-ditch effort to free up cap space. Due to many teams not wanting to pick up Johnson’s $5 million cap hit during a flat cap season, he went unclaimed. Since then, the Lightning have not attempted any other moves to free up space. There haven’t even been rumors. The uncertainty surrounding the NHL season’s start has allowed the Lightning to not have to worry about the issue, but the thought of what could happen is still looming in the back of the fans’ minds.

Cirelli and Sergachev are major assets to the franchise and could help lead the future. If one, or both leave, it’s going to be tough to see them walk and be wearing another team’s jersey. After the Tyler Johnson plan backfired, it is tough to see where else the Lightning could look. Most players that have decent trade value and could free up space are stuck with “no-trade clauses” that the team is going to have trouble voiding. This includes players such as Alex Killorn, Ryan McDonagh, Yanni Gourde, and Braydon Coburn.  No matter what direction the Bolts go, I believe in GM Julien BriseBois and I know that he will do what’s best for the team in the long run.