After the Carolina Hurricanes’ five-game series loss in the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Tampa Bay Lightning, defenseman Dougie Hamilton had some choice words during his teams’ locker room cleanout day.
“We lost to a team $18 million over the [salary] cap,” the 27-year-old, who could become an unrestricted free agent on July 28, said on Thursday. He added, “I don’t have a problem with it, you just realize how good that team was.”
The Lightning missed forward Nikita Kucherov, who carries a $9.5 million cap hit and leads the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 13 assists and 18 points, during the entire regular season, and captain Steven Stamkos, who did not play after April 8 due to a lower-body injury and has tallied five goals and 13 points in 11 games during the tournament, for a large portion of it. Stamkos, 31, carries an $8.5 million cap hit.
Because Kucherov and Stamkos were on long-term injured reserve, the Lightning had an extra $18 million available in salary cap space. At the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, they used that cap space to acquire defenseman David Savard from the Columbus Blue Jackets and defenseman Fredrik Claesson from the San Jose Sharks.
Since the salary cap is turned off when the regular season ends, the Lightning were above the it …by a lot. It is fair to wonder whether they sat their two stars out for the remainder of the regular season in a top-heavy Central Division to get some salary-cap flexibility. The Lightning finished the regular season third in the Central with 75 points, five behind the Hurricanes for first.
The Lightning had to sign center Anthony Cirelli, defenseman Erik Cernak, and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who were all restricted free agents, before the season started. They tried to trade center Tyler Johnson, who cleared waivers on October 10, but no one was willing to take on his $5 million cap hit with a flat salary cap.
The Lightning will face the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Semifinals in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Final after the Islanders eliminated the Boston Bruins in Game 6 with a 6-2 win at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday. The Lightning will have home ice but a date for Game 1 has yet to be announced.
By Harrison Brown