Life was great just a few short seasons ago. The Tampa Bay Lightning were reigning Stanley Cup Champions. Sure, Nikita Kucherov had missed the entire regular season but he was miraculously healed up just in time for the puck to drop in game 1 of the first round. The Lightning went into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at a staggering $19.7 million over the salary cap, but that didn't mean a damn thing because the cap goes away in the playoffs. So with the most expensive team ever assembled, the Bolts went on to spank the shit out of everybody on their path to becoming back-to-back Stanley Cup Champs.
This team went on a bender of all benders. They just kept spending like a bunch of maniacs. As if the money was fake or something. I don't even know the last time the Lightning signed a player to an extension for anything less than $6 million AAV. They LeRoy Jenkins'd the shit out of the salary cap. Point got a $9.5M deal, Sergachev got $8.5M, Cirelli got $6.25M, Brandon Hagel gets $6.5M starting next year. How can Tampa afford to keep all these guys around? Like the late, great Jesse Pinkman once said, "he can't keep getting away with this". And turns out, they can't.
The longest tenured player on the roster. Halfway through this season he'll likely have the most career games played as a member of the Lightning. He already has the most career points and goals in Tampa Bay Lightning history. And most importantly--the captain of back-to-back Stanley Cup winning teams in Tampa. Put all that together and you have the most important player in franchise history. The type of guy who deserves to only wear one sweater in his entire career. But the Lightning might just be too broke to make it happen.
So Stamkos mentions to you that he wants to spend the rest of his career with the Lightning, and you don't even have a conversation with the guy over the summer about a contract extension? Sure sounds like you're ghosting the guy. If we were looking at this relationship like the D.E.N.N.I.S System, we'd be at "Neglect Emotionally" right now. Which means we're just a couple short steps away from Separate Entirely.
Obviously there's always a way for the Lightning to open up more cap space at the trade deadline to make a Stamkos extension work, even with Brandon Hagel getting a massive pay bump next season. But what do you think is more likely? The Lightning clearing $8 million worth of cap space by trading Nick Paul, Tanner Jeannot, and Conor Sheary? Or maybe, just maybe, this is the year the Detroit Red Wings finally turn things around. They're humming down the stretch of the season, but they still need that veteran presence to lead them into their first playoff appearance in 8 years. The Lightning already traded away their first round picks in the 2024 and 2025 Draft. BriseBois sure would love to get back into the first round for those drafts. Here comes Steve Yzerman to the rescue as he sends a 2024 1st round pick, a conditional 2025 2nd round pick, and a prospect to Tampa in exchange for Steven Stamkos at 50% salary retained? You tell me.