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Lightning make a splash, acquire rights to Carolina’s Jake Guentzel

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Lightning make a splash, acquire rights to Carolina’s Jake Guentzel


TAMPA — General manager Julien BriseBois wasted no time utilizing the Lightning’s freshly acquired salary cap space. And in his shopping spree, he jumped the line Sunday in landing one of the top pending unrestricted free agents to make next season’s team a stronger Stanley Cup contender.

A day after they traded away defensemen Mikhail Sergachev to Utah and all but said goodbye to face of the franchise Steven Stamkos, the Lightning acquired the rights to wing Jake Guentzel of the Hurricanes. This move gives the Lightning exclusive negotiating rights to make a deal with Grentzel ahead of Monday’s noon start of free agency.

In exchange for Guentzel, the Lightning gave up a third-round pick in the 2025 draft.

Guentzel, 29, seems to be a perfect fit for the Lightning, a player who provided scoring for years in Pittsburgh, playing with elite talent in a top line with Sidney Crosby and only improved his stock with a marvelous playoff run after moving to Carolina at the trade deadline. He could slide in at the left wing on either of the Lightning’s top two lines, essentially replacing Stamkos.

Guentzel had 30 goals and 77 points in 67 games last season with Pittsburgh and Carolina. He recorded 25 of those points in 17 games once he came to the Hurricanes.

Twenty-five of Guentzel’s 30 goals came in 5-on-5 play, which would improve a Lightning team that leaned on its power play too much last season.

Among the things that stand out most about Guentzel is the plus-25 ratio, which would give the Lightning the two-way forward that BriseBois indicated he needed to make them a better team defensively.

The Lightning could sign Jake Guentzel to a maximum seven-year deal.
The Lightning could sign Jake Guentzel to a maximum seven-year deal. [ KARL B DEBLAKER | AP ]

Guentzel won a Stanley Cup as a rookie with the Penguins in 2016-17, and has been an accomplished postseason performer, scoring 38 goals and 67 points in 69 Stanley Cup playoff games. He scored four even-strength goals and nine points in 11 playoff games with Carolina.

Going into free agency, Guentzel was slated to be one of the top prizes on the market. Carolina wanted to keep him, and other contenders like Vancouver were circling. Carolina reportedly offered him an eight-year, $64 million deal to stay.

After acquiring his rights, the Lightning can now sign him to a maximum seven-year deal because he wasn’t on their reserve list at the trade deadline.

The Lightning presumably would have had an indication from Guentzel’s agent that he’d be willing to sign if they are trading for his rights a day before the market opens, especially after dealing away a third-round pick.

In recent years, the Lightning have been on the opposite end of these deals, trading away the rights to players like Barclay Goodrow and Corey Perry to net seventh-round picks when they couldn’t retain the players due to a lack of cap space.

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But after trading Sergachev and forward Tanner Jeannot on Saturday, the Lightning have $16.5 million in cap space — the went into Saturday with just $5.335 million — opening the door for BriseBois to pursue a big fish like Guentzel, especially after the GM didn’t improve his existing offer to Stamkos following the trades.

“I expect that we’re going to be focusing (the cap space) on our forward group,” BriseBois said Saturday evening. “Now, is that one player getting most of that cap space, is it two players splitting it up, three players splitting it up? It’s too early to tell at this point. At the same time, there is also some trade possibility that … just popped up that I think we need to explore and maybe that’s the avenue we’re going to go down or it might be a combination.”

And now an offseason that two months ago appeared to focus on re-signing Stamkos and extending defenseman Victor Hedman has gone in an entirely different direction.

The Lightning have been among the most active teams going into free agency. In the past two days, they’ve not only acquired Guentzel’s rights, but from Utah received 24-year-old top-four defenseman J.J. Moser to help fill Sergachev’s minutes, a former No. 11 overall pick who immediately becomes the organization’s top prospect in forward Conor Geekie, plus added four draft picks to their inventory. An extension is still possible for Hedman, who can sign Monday at the earliest.

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