The word “Dynasty” is thrown around far too loosely. Yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning are back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions. They have (arguably) six of the top-25 players in the National Hockey League on their roster and signed for the next season (or two), but back-to-back does not make you a Dynasty.
Back-to-back makes you successful. Memorable. Dominant. But a dynasty – No. When you say the word dynasty there are four or five NHL teams that should pop up in your mind: the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers, the early 80s New York Islanders with Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and the boys, and Ken Dryden and Guy Lafleur‘s six-time Stanley Cup Champions.
Those are dynasties.
What the Tampa Bay Lightning did, especially in these difficult years, is incredible, special even. They’re only the ninth franchise in NHL history to go back-to-back. However, you wouldn’t call the 2016 and 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins a dynasty, would you? Again, they were Dominant not a Dynasty.
What separates the Lightning from the Penguins is that they are still poised to make another run. Pittsburgh didn’t have the lasting power for a three-peat. The Lightning, on paper, still are. They’re still the team to beat, they have their core intact, and because of that, they have the potential to become a Dynasty. But. Due to Salary Cap constraints and the impending Seattle Expansion Draft, it’s not going to be an easy feat to three-peat.
Here’s the hill they still have to climb.
Hockey fans have called Tampa cheaters. Not true. They found a perfectly legal long-term injured reserve loophole and exploited the situation. It’s a bit bullish and perhaps unfair but perfectly within the rules… for now…
“We lost to a team that’s $18 million over the cap or whatever they are,” he said. “I wasn’t knocking the rules or anything. You realize how many weapons they have, and if you think about how many more players you could have with the money, you realize how much deeper you’d be.” Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Here’s the reality of the situation. Nikita Kucherov was injured for the entirety of the regular season. He just so happened to return from LTIR just before the playoffs. Because of that, the Lightning played the Stanley Cup playoffs $18 million over the cap. It’s not the first time something like this has happened but it’s a bit more questionable when it’s a former Hart Trophy winner.
Trades are inevitable for Tampa
This team, as good as it is, knows full well that what they’ve had the past two years is special and that changes are imminent.
Steven Stamkos says the #TBLightning spoke openly about the fact their team is about to be broken up by salary cap challenges twice during this playoff run.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) July 8, 2021
Though the majority of the core is under contract next season, a few depth players are sure to leave via free agency. David Savard, who was brought over from Columbus at the NHL trade deadline, is a top-four defenseman on any other team and will definitely sign elsewhere. Blake Coleman is going to cost far more than $1.8 million and Barclay Goodrow, for some psychotic reason, was making less than $1 million. Both would be crazy to not cash out on winning back-to-back Cups. Even if they stay in Tampa for a discount, they’ll cost a good bit more.
Even after their departure, the Lightning will still be over the cap. This means that the team will likely move one or more of Ondrej Palat ($5.3 million, M-NTC), Yanni Gourde ($5.166 million, NTC), and Alex Killorn ($4.45 million, M-NTC). Ryan McDonagh ($6.75 million) may even be asked to waive his full no-trade clause. It’s not impossible.
Brayden Point will be an unrestricted free agent after next season and there’s absolutely no way Tampa lets him leave. They may want to clear a few extra dollars while everyone’s trade value is so high.
Lucky for Tampa, thanks to a new friend out west, the team will find some additional cap relief. There is one other name, not yet mentioned, that is sure to be leaving the Lightning.
Seattle Expansion Draft
Tyler Johnson will end up in Seattle. Make no mistake – this is as close to a sure thing as it gets. Johnson is a Spokane, Washington native, he played junior hockey for the Spokane Chiefs, and his mother teaches skating locally. It’s too perfect a narrative.
However, Seattle GM Ron Francis is going to play hardball, as he should. Johnson is making $5 million a year with his best hockey behind him. Sure, he’ll be a coveted veteran both on and off the ice and will likely crack Seattle’s top-six, but Francis won’t just help out Lightning GM Julien BriseBois for nothing. He’ll need BriseBois to sweeten the pot.
Here’s how their interaction will (more or less) go:
Julien BriseBois, “Look, Ron, I know you’re still mad about the Whalers leaving Hartf – ”
Ron Francis, “I told you I don’t want to talk about it!”
Francis, through tears, hangs up the phone. BriseBois patiently waits a minute for Francis to calm down and wipe his tears away. Being the gentleman that he is, he politely calls Francis back and the conversation carries on, quickly getting serious.
Francis says that he needs BriseBois to trade him a coveted asset otherwise he’s taking Cernak – who is on a much kinder contract and has his best hockey still ahead of him.
BriseBois, knowing this is coming, asks, “What’s it going to take?” Francis replies, “Either Hugo Alnefelt, Callan Foote, or your 2022 first-round pick.” Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup.
BriseBois goes quiet a moment. Foote is a no for him, he’ll be ready to make the jump full-time next season and will take Savard’s spot. So, the question is, does BriseBois think the 2022 first-rounder will be better or worse than Alnefelt? He’ll make a counteroffer of Taylor Raddysh or Barré-Boulet, but Francis will decline. Raddysh is a hard no and Barré-Boulet is too much of a gamble.
So, in addition to Johnson, either Alnefelt, Foote, or the 2022 first-rounder will go to Seattle. It’s a hefty price to pay but one the Lightning need to swallow if they want to re-sign key players and/or fill out the bottom six.
Lightning left for a Stanley Cup run
When the smoke clears and the dust settles, the Lightning will still have Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, Point, McDonagh, and Conn Smythe Trophy Winner, Andrei Vasilevskiy. That’s incredible. There’s not a better core in the NHL.
They’ll also have Pat Maroon, a three-straight Stanley Cup champion himself. That man, Big Rig, is a Dynasty unto himself.
— NHL (@NHL) July 8, 2021
At the end of the day, can the front office find the missing pieces? Will they be able to fill out the roster and find fresh legs to carry this team back to the finals? If they are, all of the aforementioned names and Head Coach Jon Cooper will have done the near impossible. They’ll be only the fourth franchise to win three consecutive Cups and the first to do so in nearly 40 years.
Then, there will be no debate, the Lightning will be a modern-day Dynasty. Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup.
Follow for more daily NHL content on Twitter @dcblanda.
Featured Image via (AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack)