Tampa – Despite trying to hold Alex Killorn to the end, the Lightning saw their unrestricted free agent find a new home on Saturday.
The onset of free agency in the NHL inevitably led to the end of Killorn’s tenure with the Lightning. After spending 11 seasons in the Tampa Bay Jacket, he signed a four-year, $25 million deal with the Anaheim Ducks for an average annual value of $6.25 million.
“Honestly, it was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life to leave Tampa,” Killorn said. “But looking back at it all and talking to everyone I know, everyone I love, it was the right decision to make and I’m so glad I made it. It’s a bit bittersweet at the moment, but tomorrow, everything will be fine.”
Keeping Killorn ultimately ended up being unrealistic given Tampa Bay’s salary cap restrictions. The Lightning only had $7.325 million in cap space to work going into the day, but they used it to make the necessary moves to retool their front lines with three valuable deals, signing Conor Sheary, Luke Glendening and Josh Archibald, spending a whopping $3.6 million only in salaries. Next season to do so.
“All three of these forwards are really effective checkers that will help you protect your leads, and they can play against the other team’s best players so we won’t always have these encounters on the first and second lines,” said general manager Julien Brisbois. “And I think that would also free up some of our higher-scoring strikers from some of those defensive responsibilities, knowing that our players who are potentially in our bottom six positions are able to take over that role for us.”
The team also signed guard Jonas Johansson, as the team’s new replacement for Andrzej Vasilevski, to a two-year deal worth $775,000 average.
Cherry, who scored 16 goals in the past three seasons playing for the Capitals, was a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017.
The 31-year-old, who scored 15 goals and 22 assists plus 9 in 82 games with Washington last season, signed a three-year contract worth an average of $2 million per year. Cherry, a likely third winger, also played in both of the Capitals’ special teams units, kicking two power play goals and two short handed goals. He previously raked in $1.5 million.
Cherry said he’s received interest from other teams, but the Lightning has shown more.
“I think a lot of the guys in the league have Tampa circled just because of their success in the past 10 seasons. Just their continued success has always been something I wanted to be a part of,” Cherry said. “Just that feeling that they want you as much as I want them made my decision easy.”
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“It’s always a tough game when you’re playing with these guys,” Cherry said of facing the Lightning. “They play fast, they can score in sets, the big guys are always dangerous. The power play has always been dangerous. Going to Tampa, it felt like a battle to get there. So I’m happy to be on the other side of it now.”
Glendening, 34, signed a two-year deal with an average annual value of $800,000. He will likely fill in the team’s fourth line position and top penalty kick duties left over from unrestricted free agent Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
A perfect stand-off man — he has a 55.7% winning percentage per circuit and a 59.7% success rate in the past three seasons — Glendening has spent the past two seasons in Dallas, averaging six goals, five assists and 13:10 of ice time. Game. Two of his three goals last season with the Stars were short-range. He carried an annual cap of $1.5 million the past two seasons.
“I’m glad to be on this side of it,” said Glinding, who spent his first eight years with Detroit. “I’ve played against (the Lightning) for 10 years now. They obviously have a great team and I’m just trying to be a small part of that. … They already have a great team and I’m just going to try to come in and help in any way I can.”
Archibald, who will be 31 years old when the season opens, has signed a two-year deal worth $800,000 AVA. It is likely that he will round out the team’s fourth line as a right winger, displaying a physical game with sandpaper. Archibald played parts of eight seasons in the National Hockey League with Pittsburgh, Arizona and Edmonton, logging 9:59 in 62 games with the Penguins last season. He scored six goals and six assists and was second on the team with 195 strikeouts, playing under the $900,000 cap.
“I think it will fit,” said Archibald. “I’m really looking forward to getting out there bringing speed and fitness, and hopefully getting some opportunities to help kill penalties. I love that part of the game.”
Although they made keeping Killorn one of their top priorities in the offseason, the Lightning were unable to maintain a consensus top-five unrestricted free agent.
Discussions about staying in Tampa have “went backwards,” Killorn said, adding that he decided on Friday that he would pursue other options.
“Alex has meant a lot to our organization and has a very important place in our franchise history,” said BriseBois. “A tremendous, tremendous leader on the ice, in the locker room, in the community. Really happy for him. He has a great opportunity in Anaheim. I know he didn’t necessarily want to leave… We didn’t want to lose him but sometimes the economics of the company come into play and we didn’t We can bridge the difference.”
Johansson, 27, has just 35 NHL games under his belt, most recently going 2-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average and 0.932 goals in three games with Colorado. He spent most of last season in the AHL, posting a 14-9-2 record, a 2.33 GAA and a 0.920 save percentage. He is supposed to be second on the Lightning goalie depth chart above AHL Syracuse goaltender Hugo Alnefelt and favorite to replace veteran Brian Elliott behind Vasilevskiy.
As of Saturday, the Lightning had only 17 players under one-way contracts. Included with that, they only had eight forwards on one-year deals for 2023-24. Tanner Ginot would finish ninth after receiving a qualifying offer as an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent, but the upcoming raise was not included in that space.
Parting ways with the bottom six forwards, Russ Colton, the team traded the pending free agent to Colorado for a high second-round pick in the draft. The Lightning also acquired a seventh-round pick next season from Chicago for the rights to veteran Corey Perry, who then signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Blackhawks.
Ian Cole signed a one-year, $3 million deal with Vancouver, but BriseBois said he didn’t expect to get another defenseman to replace him, going with the seven current defensemen under contract to replace the opening night blue line.
To add additional forward depth, the Lightning also signed Logan Brown and Mitchell Chaffee to one-year, two-way contracts, each worth $775,000 at the NHL level.
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