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Lightning re-sign Cernak, Rutta; salary cap situation still unfolding


EDMONTON, ALBERTA - SEPTEMBER 15: Erik Cernak #81 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates into the corner during the second period of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Place on September 15, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

Something has to give for the Tampa Bay Lightning at some point.

The team announced on Tuesday that it re-signed two players to multi-year contracts, further tightening their salary cap situation as the 2020-21 season approaches.

Those signings involve defensemen Eric Cernak and Jan Rutta.

Cernak’s deal is a three-year, $8.85 million contract ($2.95 million per season), while Rutta’s is a two-year, $2.6 million ($1.3 million per season) deal.

Cernak was one of Tampa Bay’s two remaining restricted free agents, while Ruuta was unsigned as an unrestricted free agent. These two deals should round out Tampa Bay’s defense, but it does further complicate their salary cap situation that is going to have to be resolved in the coming weeks.

[Related: ProHockeyTalk’s 2020 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

With these two deals now on the books, it puts the Lightning’s cap number at roughly $87.7 million. That is more than $6 million over the salary cap ($81.5 million) while they still have forward Anthony Cirelli unsigned as a restricted free agent. He is going to cost at least another $3-4 million to get re-signed, which will only further drive up that cap number. They have to figure out a way to shed salary, and a lot of it, very quickly.

There is speculation that Nikita Kucherov could start the season on LTIR, which could give them some temporary relief. But depending on how long he stayed on LTIR (assuming they go that route) it would still only be temporary.

Forwards Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn also seem to be potential trade chips. The Lightning tried to waive Johnson at the start of the offseason, but he went unclaimed. They are in a tough spot here because at some point they are going to have to trade somebody, and every team in the league is going to know they have no leverage.

This should also be a situation where an offer sheet to Cirelli becomes a possibility (Nashville should try that), but that is just a fantasy at this point because they almost never happen.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.