- Written by Eric Daoust
The implications of the Tyler Johnson/Ondrej Palat contracts on your salary cap fantasy league
After looking over the overall implications of Tyler Johnson's new contract last week, the Tampa Bay Lightning signed another success story, Ondrej Palat, to a contract identical to the one signed by Johnson. With so many highly-talented prospects in the Lightning organization, seeing a pair of emerging young talents from this crop sign big contracts begins to shape the team's landscape for the foreseeable future. For many, the signings represent a big step backwards in fantasy value, mainly due to the loss of opportunity.
The top six
This chart of Lightning forward contracts, courtesy of Capgeek, is very revealing. Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, Teddy Purcell, Johnson and Palat are all highly-paid and have a history of producing top-six numbers. The latter-two emerged in the last year and the politics of contracts should keep them on scoring lines most of the time.
Ryan Malone, whose future is currently in limbo due to off-ice issues, had not been a top-six winger for the club anyway. Meanwhile, deadline acquisition Ryan Callahan could very well be headed to free agency.
The final spot in the top-six is up for grabs. One would think that top prospect Jonathan Drouin will be given every opportunity to nail down a spot on the top line over the next few years.
Players fit for depth roles
The most obvious omission is Alex Killorn who is currently a restricted free agent and has had a lot of success since his promotion to Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, it appears that Palat has leapfrogged him on the depth chart. Depending on Drouin's development, it is possible that this year killed Killorn's chances of seeing consistent top-six minutes, at least until Purcell's contract expires in two years from now.
However, if the Lightning choose to use both Filppula and Johnson as centermen behind Stamkos, it would likely be Killorn that would benefit from a promotion on the depth chart. In any event, Killorn should be effective in whatever role he is put in. It will just severely affect his offensive potential if he is put in a depth role.
Beyond Killorn, there is a trio of Lightning prospects that will likely occupy bottom-six roles for the foreseeable future in J.T. Brown, Richard Panik and Cedric Paquette. All three possess offensive upside but were likely to settle into depth roles anyway. The last year more or less sealed their fate and likely ends their points-only relevance. Still, all three possess decent value in multi-category leagues.
Prospects less fit for depth roles
This is where things get interesting. The Lightning are much deeper than just the names mentioned above. What about Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Brett Connolly? All three possess excellent offensive upside but will be in tough to climb the depth chart with so many players already established in their respective roles on the main roster. Sure, it is possible that either one of them secure a third-line role as a secondary scorer, but that is not an ideal situation for fantasy owners.
Kucherov has been dominant down in the minors and is the farthest along in his development out of this trio. He would be the first to make the jump full-time in a depth scoring role. While he does deserve a promotion to the NHL, his 18 points in 52 contests (13 minutes in average ice time) with the Lightning last year show that his upside is limited, at least short-tem, in such a role.
Namestnikov and Connolly also have enjoyed great success down in the AHL but have yet to grab hole of a roster spot with the Lightning. Both may be forced to spend another year in the minors with so many talented forwards in the organization that are more proven at the highest level.
While there remains many chapters of the Lightning story to be written, some pieces are starting to fall into place. Coaches will juggle lines and ultimately go with the most productive players but contracts do matter in terms of first choice when opportunities arise. For this reason, the new contracts signed by both Palat and Johnson represent boosts in their fantasy value. They are now more safe to own.
With such a deep and talented core of young players, there were bound to be a few that fall victim to the numbers game. There are only so many roster spots to go around and even fewer in advantageous scoring roles.
Of course, there is the possibility of further changes being made to the roster. The Lightning may bring in some free agents which would further muddy the waters for the prospects group. Also, we could see a trade or two take place that sees some forward prospects moved for some blueline help with more immediate impact. And in the cases of Namestnikov and Kucherov, both Russians, there is always the risk of a defection to the KHL if they fail to secure full-time spots or if they are not happy with their roles. Regardless of what they say about their commitment to the NHL, history shows that the risk is always present.
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