Brandon Hagel's $5 Million AAV Raise Puts Lightning In Another Bind Next Summer

Brandon Hagel just signed an eight-year, $6.5 million AAV deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning and although he very well could be worth the money to keep around long-term, it puts the team in another bind next summer when the contract starts.

Hagel scored 25 goals and 44 points in 77 games in 2021-22, split between the Chicago Blackhawks and Lightning. His role was reduced when he came over to the Lightning, but they corrected that last season and he improved, scoring 30 goals and 64 points as a top-six winger. He's a few days away from turning 25, so it is believed he has yet to reach his prime. The Lightning are still trying to win right now while they have their core locked in long-term. Looking at Hagel's production at both ends of the ice and his age, he is definitely worth the money he got, but what can the Lightning hope to do to stay cap compliant after this?

Tampa Bay has lost Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Ryan McDonagh, Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow over the past couple of seasons and they have all gone on to get paid a lot or continue to earn big money on their deals. Next season the Lightning will have eight players locked in at $5.2 million+, and that's not including Steven Stamkos who will require a new contract.

So, who might be gone next and what does the future hold for this front-loaded Lightning team? They surely expect the cap to go up, and so does the rest of the league. That is a viable option to create more cap space and also sign Stamkos without having to lose any more bigger names. But depending on how much it goes up, a trade will still likely have to be made. I assume Victor Hedman is off the table even though Mikhail Sergachev has seemingly just passed him, and the Lightning can't afford to lose any more big names on defense. They only have three who aren't being paid close to minimum.

The Lightning will continue to pay their backup the least amount they can since they have Andrei Vasilevskiy, so the forwards are where the losses will come from, which is familiar territory for them. If Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Hagel, Anthony Cirelli, and Nic Paul are all locked up for at least four more seasons, the only other forwards making any kind of money are Tanner Jeannot and Conor Sheary. Jeannot is the obvious choice if something major doesn't change from last season to this one, and Sheary has a full to-trade clause until June 15, 2024. That would still be enough time to make a move before the following season. However the Lightning swing it, Hagel is their future and Stamkos won't be making $8.5 million AAV on his next deal. It might be doable, but we'll have to wait for what big moves are ahead.

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