Tampa Bay Lightning hockey is back!
After a long 16 hour negotiating session in New York yesterday, the NHL and NHLPA announced an agreement in principle around 6 a.m. today.
The NHL did not announce the start date of the season or the number of games each team will play, but it is expected to be a 48 or 50 game season starting on either January 15 or January 19 with teams only playing within their respective conferences. The Bolts had January 15, 17 and 19 as scheduled home games, thus it is a good bet that they will open the season at the Forum.
You can view the particulars of the new agreement here.
All details will work themselves out over the next few days.
The new CBA, which still must be drafted and ratified by both sides, is for ten years with an eight year opt-out.
The salary cap for this season will remain at $70.2 million. The proposed 2013-2014 salary cap is $64.3 million. According to Capgeek.com, the Lightning has $58.2 million committed to 15 players. This includes injured defenseman Mattias Ohlund who almost certainly will retire or be bought out in the summer. (The new CBA affords each team two contract buyouts, but they must be exercised in the summer) If that happens, the Bolts will be at approximately $54.5 million with 14 players for the 2013-14 season. And for those asking, in my opinion, Vincent Lecavalier is safe and will not be bought out.
The Lightning forwards are Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone, Nate Thompson, BJ Crombeen, Adam Hall, Dana Tyrell, Tom Pyatt and Benoit Pouliot. With JT Brown injured, Brett Connolly is the best bet to round out the top six and Alex Killorn has a shot at a lower line forward. With the abbreviated season, Cory Conacher may still be a year away.
The Bolts have eight defensemen on one way contracts. They are Victor Hedman, Sami Salo, Matt Carle, Eric Brewer, Brian Lee, Brendan Mikkelson, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Keith Aulie who is waiver eligible. Hedman and Mikkelson are the only two Tampa Bay players currently under contract in Europe.
It is truly remarkable how General Manager Steve Yzerman has been able to strengthen the organizational depth of the Lightning in such a short amount of time Although Tampa Bay has a wealth of young talent in their system, it looks like most of the baby Bolts will remain in the minors at the start of the season. As mentioned above, it looks like two forwards have an opportunity to make the big club in this shortened season.
Note: Because of the circus and WWE being in town, the players will be practicing at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday until the ice is ready at the Forum. Ice should go down on Tuesday or Wednesday with training camp starting on Wednesday, January 9.
Stay tuned puckheads!
About the Author: WB Philp is a published hockey writer who has a built in disdain for Barry Melrose. He covered the Detroit sports teams for many years until he came to his senses and moved to the Sunshine State. He is a true puckhead on a mission from God (Gordie Howe) to make hockey relevant in the south. He lives in Hockey Bay USA and covers the Lightning full time. Did I mention he hates Barry Melrose?