Lightning found significant cap savings with Bellemare
At the start of the 2021 free agency period, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois took a number of steps to bring low-cost depth to his roster. Two of those signings brought in veteran players looking for more shots at a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay on identical over two years, $1 million per year contracts, where they could play a smaller but still impactful role for the franchise.
The headline for those signings was Corey Perry, who was coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals losses to the Lightning but still had plenty of quality hockey in his frame. Despite a slow start to the season, he would go on to score 19 goals and 40 points in 2021-22, as well as six goals and 11 points in the playoffs, scoring totals that make him an absolute bargain for his shot.
While Perry may have been the headliner, the other veteran who signed had a different but still big impact for the Lightning. It was, of course, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, the then 36-year-old Frenchman who had played for three different NHL teams during his seven-year career at the time.
When BriseBois signed Bellemare, he was brought in not to score, but a defensively solid forward who could pick up 10-12 minutes a night on the fourth line or be stashed in the minor league if outpaced by a prospect. Instead, the Lightning got more than just a depth player.
Lightning got the best of Bellemare
Out of training camp, it was clear that the Bellemare were ready to play for a championship. He entered a starting role in the Lightning’s last six, where he played limited 5-on-5 minutes but played a major role on the penalty kill. As the season progressed, he really started to find his footing in Tampa Bay, where he played alongside fellow veteran forwards Pat Maroon and Perry. They took the nickname of the “school bus” lineand they carried each other to success.
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At the end of the regular season, Bellemare played in 80 games, where he tied his career-high for goals scored with nine, had 20 points, went plus-24, hit a career-high 13:45 of game time each night. while being the most active forward on the penaltysince he played more than 2:30 seconds shorthanded per game.
In the playoffs, he saw his usage dwindle, but he was still an effective player during his 10 minutes of nighttime ice time. He spent over 2 minutes shorthanded, had 31 hits, and won 51% of his faceoffs. Of course, those aren’t gangbuster stats, but for a fourth line on a stacked Lightning lineup, that’s all you can hope for.
Normally that’s where the story ends for a veteran depth signing, as you bring them in on a low cost deal for the season, make a run to the Stanley Cup Final, then watch them march into the sunset to join a new team that can pay them more for the remaining years of their NHL career. However, by signing Bellemare to a two-year contract, BriseBois essentially found the money for the 2022-23 season.
Lightning needs Bellemare to continue their unlikely success
By having him on the books for one more season, the Lightning eliminates an unknown. There’s never a guarantee that a newly formed line will have the chemistry that Perry, Maroon and Bellemare have found, and if they can continue that game, they’ll be worth far more than their combined cap of $3 million.
For a team that is firmly pressed against the ceiling, this type of production cost cannot be overstated. Although defensive attackers first cannot demand the highest wages in the league, even though he cost $1.5 million to replace Bellemare, that’s money the Lightning just don’t have right now.
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So while he may not be the brightest contributor on the ice, what Bellemare brings both on and off is an absolute boon to the franchise. He is loved by fans for his heart-and-soul style of play, and his play over the coming year will be a major indicator of the Lightning’s success. throughout the 2022-23 season.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He’s written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. Although he’s happy from pretty much talking cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.