Steve Yzerman has major decisions to make over the next two years
The first half of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s year has gone less than ideally. They currently hold the tenth spot in the Eastern Conference and are four points out of a wildcard spot with two less games played than Boston and the same number of games played as New Jersey and Detroit. It’s not a dire situation standings-wise yet, but it is not the situation the team expected to be in after making it to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. On top of that, general manager Steve Yzerman has a boatload of player personnel issues to deal with moving forward.
This past Sunday, it came to the forefront that Jonathan Drouin asked for a trade last November, as said by his agent Allan Walsh in a statement. Drouin was the third overall pick in 2013 behind Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksander Barkov, but unlike those two players he hasn’t found consistent success in the NHL. He has shown flashes of brilliance, especially in the 2015-2016 preseason, but Jon Cooper, Steve Yzerman, and company can’t seem to find a place for him on the team. Whether or not Drouin is dealt soon, it just adds to the stress Yzerman is dealing with regarding his club.
The Stamkos saga has been going on for months now. Little to no progress has been made on contract negotiations and the trade deadline looms around the corner. If Tampa Bay is out of a playoff spot, the team has to make the onerous decision of whether or not to trade him now and gain some assets back, or risk losing him in free agency in a few months and forever holding their peace.
Outside of these two public stories, behind the scenes in Tampa there is possibly a bigger problem coming up. Nikita Kucherov needs a contract this year. The summer of 2017 is the big one. Ben Bishop, Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson all need contracts. That’s a lot of money you need to be ready to dish out. In a salary cap world, it’s hard to keep a legitimate contending team without constantly refreshing pieces (see Chicago, for example). You are at the risk of losing one or two of these players if you sign Steven Stamkos to a long term, possibly ten million or more per year, deal. They could take an estimated risk and hope Andrei Vasilevskiy will be ready and give up Ben Bishop, but that is a huge risk.
Steve Yzerman and Tampa Bay will have a lot on their plate in the upcoming months that will decide the fate of the franchise and their course of action over the next two years. Deciding if they will try to keep Steven Stamkos on a massive deal or not will have ginormous implications on the team’s salary cap situation moving forward, as will if they decide to trade him for more incoming pieces. Dealing Stamkos’ possible future replacement in Drouin won’t come easy either, and if a deal is struck it will likely be at the draft, unless Tampa Bay gets into a playoff spot and wants to try to trade Drouin for a piece that will help them now for one last run with Stamkos. Add all of this to the multitude re-signings and you have two years of hell upcoming.
There are a lot of questions to be answered and not a lot of time in Tampa Bay.