Lightning acquire rights to Guentzel from Canes

The Tampa Bay Lightning acquired the rights to pending unrestricted free agent winger Jake Guentzel from the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday in exchange for a 2025 third-round draft pick.

Guentzel, 29, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent Monday when the free agent window officially opens. By trading for Guentzel, the Lightning have an exclusive window to sign Guentzel before he can reach the open market.

This gives the Lightning an opportunity to sign Guentzel to a maximum seven-year contract.

It was speculated during the second round of the NHL draft Saturday that Guentzel could be in play for the Lightning. That speculation only intensified after the Lightning traded defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to Utah and forward Tanner Jeannot to the Los Angeles Kings.

By moving on from Sergachev and Jeannot, the Lightning went from $5.335 million in salary cap space entering Saturday to having $16.5 million in space by the end of the day.

It initially appeared as if the Lightning created that flexibility to re-sign captain Steven Stamkos, who reached the 40-goal mark for the seventh time in his career, to a long-term extension. However, general manager Julien BriseBois told reporters that he spoke with Stamkos’ agent after the trades were made but didn’t increase an offer that reportedly is for an average annual value of just $3 million.

BriseBois said the plan for Stamkos is to test free agency.

“I understand that when you get this close to free agency, it can be tempting to see what the market has to offer you,” BriseBois said. “That was a risk I was taking when I didn’t go to Steven a year early to try to lock him up and get a contract done.”

BriseBois later addressed the team’s additional cap space by saying they could either opt to get volume or quality.

“I don’t know yet how we’re going to do that,” BriseBois said. “I know that the priority is going to be to address our forward group.”

Should the Lightning be able to get a deal done with Guentzel, it would give them a player who is younger than Stamkos. He finished with 30 goals in 67 games in a season disrupted by injuries while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Hurricanes, who acquired him at the trade deadline.

A four-time 30-goal scorer who has recorded seven straight seasons of more than 20 goals, Guentzel would give the Lightning another dangerous winger to complement a forward group that six players finish with more than 20 goals in 2023-24.

It’s a group that includes 2019 Hart Memorial Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Nicholas Paul, Brandon Hagel and, of course, Stamkos, who could potentially be toward the end of his time with the only club he’s ever known.

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