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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Lightning's toughest first-round matchup

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the March 27 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Outside of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who gives the Tampa Bay Lightning the toughest matchup in the Eastern Conference First Round? -- @boltsbucsrays

Realistically, I don't think the Lightning are going to have too difficult of a time in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs because it's unlikely they will face either of the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division: the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. One of them would have to drop into the second wild-card position, but they all have at least a five-point lead on the Montreal Canadiens, who hold the second wild card. 

The Islanders would give the Lightning fits on the off chance they drop. They did in all three games they played against them this season. The Lightning defeated the Islanders 4-2 at Amalie Arena on Nov. 8, but were outshot 37-27 and needed a goal from forward Tyler Johnson at 18:34 of the third period to take a 3-2 lead. New York defeated Tampa Bay 5-1 at Barclays Center on Jan. 13, one of two times this season the Lightning have lost by at least four goals (7-1 to the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 27). The Islanders also took them to a shootout before losing 1-0 at Amalie Arena on Feb. 1. 

Otherwise, the Lightning won all three games against the Columbus Blue Jackets by a combined 17-3 and swept the three-game season series against the Carolina Hurricanes by a combined 13-6. The Penguins gave them some trouble and did win one of three games, but the Lightning scored at least four goals in all three games against them. They are 3-0-0 against the Canadiens, outscoring them 13-6, and 2-0-0 against the Capitals. They still play Montreal and Washington one more time each.

Video: BOS@TBL: Stamkos reaches 40-goal mark for fifth time

 

Which players are most expendable or likely to be moved off the Lightning roster this offseason due to their impending cap crunch? -- @k_corpstein

It's easy to see it as an impending crunch because the NHL salary-cap charges for forwards Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Yanni Gourde are each going to climb at least more than $4 million next season. Point is still on an entry-level contract and will get a significant and well-earned raise that potentially could exceed $7 million. Kucherov, who has a cap charge of $4.67 million this season, will go up to $9.5 million next season, when his eight-year contract extension kicks in. Gourde's cap charge will rise from $1 million to $5.166 million because of his six-year contract extension. However, the Lightning have ways to offset some of that with four defensemen who are pending unrestricted free agents in Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn and Jan Rutta. It's reasonable to say at least two of them won't be back next season, which would save on the cap, especially with defensemen Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev still on an entry-level contracts next season. Maybe Cal Foote becomes the third Lightning defenseman on an ELC. Foote, the No. 14 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, has played the entire season for Syracuse of the American Hockey League. He has 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) in 67 games as a first-year pro.

It's also possible Tampa Bay could try to move Ryan Callahan's contract off their books. He has one year remaining on a six-year contract that carries a $5.8 million cap charge and owed $4.7 million in actual salary, according to the Lightning. There may be another move or two the Lightning would have to make, a potential trade to shed some cap and maybe bring back some prospects or draft picks they have given up in other trades, but they have two more things going for them: The salary cap is currently projected to rise $3.5 million to $83 million for next season and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has one more year remaining on his three-year contract that carries a $3.5 million cap charge. He's a restricted free agent after that

 

What is the likelihood that Matt Duchene and Erik Karlsson re-sign with their current teams? -- @BartlettBrando

Slim on Duchene with the Blue Jackets. He has no ties to Columbus after being traded there from the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 22. We don't know yet if the Blue Jackets are going to make the playoffs. Even if they do, Duchene hasn't had his pick of team yet in his NHL career and he'll likely get that this offseason. My guess is he's going to follow the John Tavares route, narrow a list down to five or six teams, meet with most or all of them and find his best fit. I'm not ruling out the Blue Jackets as a candidate, but he'll open the bidding. The Senators reportedly made him a contract offer that he turned down. He seems intent on getting to July 1.

There's a better chance for Karlsson to re-sign with the San Jose Sharks. That it hasn't happened yet gives me pause and makes me wonder if he's intent on at least getting to the interview period to see what else is out there for him. However, players that go to San Jose typically love it there and most want to stay because of the organization, the market, the weather and the way of life. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson also usually keeps quiet about negotiations, so we wouldn't necessarily know if he's close to locking up Karlsson. I don't know that Karlsson's groin injury that has kept him out of the lineup for 12 straight games is holding up the process, but it's likely the focus now is just on getting him healthy.

Video: CBJ@BOS: Duchene powers past defender and scores

 

Should the Buffalo Sabres give Jeff Skinner whatever he wants to get him signed? He and Jack Eichel seem to be flourishing together. -- @SabrePats13

Skinner and Eichel haven't been playing together at even strength of late. That doesn't mean they won't again or won't next season if Skinner returns, but it should be noted they are currently not flourishing together. As for the whatever he wants part, no, that's not how this works, especially for a player who has never appeared in a single Stanley Cup Playoff game. Skinner is a solid player who has numbers (37 goals, 22 assists in 76 games) comparable to what he put up two seasons ago with the Carolina Hurricanes (37 goals, 26 assists in 79 games). He's having a big year at the right time, when his contract is expiring. He's a good core piece if the Sabres can get him re-signed, but it has to be within reason. For example, Skinner might be looking at Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone's eight-year contract that carries a $9.5 million cap charge as his new comparable, but the Sabres could be thinking lower than that, maybe in the $7 million range on a seven- or eight-year contract. It's certainly within reason to think they can come to a compromise, but the Sabres aren't just going to give Skinner whatever he wants and nor is the player just going to settle. All of that is probably why Skinner still hasn't signed. 

 

Which of the franchises in the running for Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko do you believe would be the most impacted by winning the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery? -- @SoCalAvsFan

The politically correct answer is any team other than the Senators would benefit from winning the lottery. The Senators, of course, must give their first-round pick to the Colorado Avalanche. However, I think the Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers would be most impacted considering the stages all three teams are in, previously successful and now rebuilding. That's not to say the Avalanche or any other team that will have a chance to get the top pick wouldn't be impacted. They all would be, but the Kings, Red Wings and Rangers would be able to focus their respective rebuilds around that pick and could use it in the same way the Toronto Maple Leafs did when they chose Auston Matthews with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. They used it as a centerpiece in a rebuilding plan, a bridge to the future. 

The Rangers and Red Wings are ahead of the Kings in their rebuilding project. New York graduated some prospects to the NHL this season (forwards Filip Chytil, Brett Howden and Lias Andersson) and has seen others (defensemen Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren) get some time with the big club. The Rangers also have the three first-round picks they made in the 2018 NHL Draft (Vitali Kravtsov, K'Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist), and the potential for as many as four in the 2019 NHL Draft if conditions of trades come through. They already have two first-round picks (their own and the Winnipeg Jets' selection) and they can get two more if the Lightning win the Stanley Cup and/or the Dallas Stars advance to the Western Conference Final and Mats Zuccarello plays in at least 50 percent of their postseason games. Adding Hughes or Kakko to the mix would give the Rangers a likely cornerstone piece of their future forward group they've already been developing. Just a hunch, but my guess is they'd lean toward Kakko because of his shot. The Rangers have playmakers. They need shooters. The Red Wings would have either Hughes or Kakko join Filip Zadina, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft, as their big-time future forwards, adding to a core that already includes Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and Michael Rasmussen. The Kings are just starting with a get-younger-and-quicker project and they need a big-time infusion of it because they've been one of the oldest and slowest teams in the NHL at a time when it's getting younger and faster. 

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