Brandon Hagel, Season Previews, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Lightning Season Preview, Victor Hedman

Lightning’s 3 Best Contracts for the 2023-24 NHL Season

Well, it’s that time of the year again. With September on the calendar, we are just a few weeks away from the start of training camp, which means we can take a long look at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s roster for THW’s yearly best and worst contract articles.

Today, we are going to discuss Tampa Bay’s best contracts, because I honestly believe the Lightning still features some of the smartest signings in the league that bring with them value that keeps the team competitive. Sure, they are in a cap crunch that has forced the departure of core players in free agency, but that is the nature of a stagnant salary cap. General manager Julien BriseBois has worked magic (for the most part) and found ways to keep the team competitive for the Stanley Cup by locking up his core to reasonable long-term extensions while acquiring value players when they come available on the trade market.

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You can make an argument for any number of players with Tampa Bay heading into the 2023-24 season, but for now, here are my top three contracts for the Lightning.

Honorable Mentions: Brent Seabrook & Mikey Eyssimont

To start off, I just wanted to give a reminder to all Lightning fans that we have Brent Seabrook’s $6.875 million long-term injury reserve (LTIR) cap space to thank for the franchise staying competitive over the last handful of seasons. After the 2023-24 season, this contract comes off the books, which means BriseBois will have to get creative once again to keep his team compliant. So, while Seabrook will never wear a team jersey, he still left a big impact due to some creative bookkeeping.

Michael Eyssimont Tampa Bay Lightning
Michael Eyssimont of the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Also, I wanted to make a note here about Mikey Eyssimont and his two-year, $800 K contract extension from this offseason. While he won’t be an offensive star by any means, his play during the postseason (before he was injured) really impressed me, and he looks like a player who could find his next gear with Tampa Bay. If he does, he may make this two-year extension look like an absolute bargain, even if he isn’t a big producer on the scoresheet.

#3: Steven Stamkos – $8.5 Million Cap Hit

It wasn’t that long ago that you would look at Steven Stamkos’ eight-year, $8.5 million contract extension signed back in 2016 and feel a bit of concern. While there was never a doubt about his scoring prowess while on the ice, a constant string of injuries kept him off it, which limited his potential as a top-end player. After he missed all but two minutes of the 2020 playoffs and was somewhat whelming in their 2021 Stanley Cup run, there was a legitimate discussion that his contract could become an anchor for the cap-strapped franchise.

Flash forward to now, and you can make the real argument that Stamkos’ $8.5 million cap hit is a bargain. Over the last two seasons, he has scored 106 and 84 points, potted 42 and 34 goals, and most importantly, has stayed healthy by only missing two games from 2021-2023.

Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With Stamkos entering the final year of his contract, it’s difficult to predict how things will end for the Lightning’s Captain. You can argue that he’s worth extending again to a similar contract given the renaissance his career has gone through on the ice, and his value to the organization off it. However, his future contract is a conversation for another time. For now, if Stamkos can stay healthy and continue scoring as he has over the last two seasons, he will justify to us all why his extension was well worth it all those years ago.

#2: Brandon Hagel – $1.5 Million Cap Hit

It almost feels like cheating including a player like Brandon Hagel on this list, because we all know that his true value is closer to the eight-year, $6.5 million extension he signed back in August. However, this contract is why the Lightning gave up so much to acquire him at the 2022 Trade Deadline. He was being paid well below market value for his production, and he confirmed this with a 30-goal, 64-point campaign in 2022-23.

Brandon Hagel Tampa Bay Lightning
Brandon Hagel of the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the potential for another big year ahead of him at a meager $1.5 million cap hit, Hagel can make the case as one of the best value contracts across the NHL. He has been a fantastic top-six forward who plays strong in all aspects of the game, and he will help keep the Lightning competitive for years to come. This won’t change when his new contract kicks in next season, but for now, BriseBois can enjoy seeing a big acquisition justify all the assets he gave up.

#1: Victor Hedman – $7.875 Million Cap Hit

The 2022-23 season was, by Victor Hedman‘s standards, a down year. The perennial Norris Trophy finalist saw his scoring totals dip from the 20-goal, 85-point career highs he posted in 2021-22 to just nine goals and 49 points. To put it simply, you could tell that something wasn’t right for Hedman, as he was often a step behind his normal stellar play.

Despite this, Hedman still has, easily, one of the best contracts in the entire NHL. The fact that he is a top-pairing defenseman making under $8 million feels like a cheat code, especially when his contemporaries are easily making $9 to $11 million per season. In fact, he isn’t even the highest-paid defenseman with the Lightning anymore now that Mikhail Sergachev’s eight-year, $8.5 million extension has kicked in.

Victor Hedman Tampa Bay Lightning
Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It would take an even more significant step back in play from Hedman this season before I would move him off the #1 spot on this list. For a franchise that needs to use every dollar wisely to stay cap-compliant, his $7.875 million cap has been one of the biggest blessings you could ask for. Without his play and this contract, it’s hard to imagine the franchise being as competitive for as long as they have.

Lightning Rely on Value Contracts

While there should finally be significant cap relief coming over the next two to three seasons, the Lightning are currently a cap-strapped team that is staying competitive by maximizing the value of their best contracts. You can argue that all of their best players are signed at or below market value, which gives them enough flexibility to make meaningful moves when needed.

Related: Lightning’s Best Trades With the Vancouver Canucks

Even players like Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, who are getting paid upwards of $9.5 million, are more than justifying their contracts with stellar play on the ice. Given their dreams to cement themselves as a dynasty by winning a third Stanley Cup in less than five seasons, the Lightning will need every player to pull their weight, from the value signings to the superstars.

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