James Wisniewski (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are set to take a shot on James Wisniewski in training camp. The 32-year-old played one shift last season with the Carolina Hurricanes before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the campaign, but his offensive ability makes him an intriguing free agent.
James Wisniewski played one shift and threw one hit as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. The result was a torn ACL, 81 games on the sideline and a buyout that ended Wisniewski’s tenure as a Hurricane. That doesn’t appear it will be the end of his career, though, as Wisniewski has potentially found himself a landing spot for the upcoming season in Tampa Bay.
According to the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle, Wisniewski, 32, has signed a professional tryout deal with the Lightning and the club will be taking a look at the veteran blueliner when camp rolls around. There’s no guarantee that Wisniewski will latch on with the Lightning come the regular season, but that a team with an already stellar blueline is taking a chance on him is a promising sign after a season-ending injury.
If Wisniewski’s game hasn’t taken a step back with the time off he would be a helpful addition to the second or third defensive pairing in Tampa Bay, and he could come cheap, which is the biggest thing for a Lightning team that is right up against the salary cap.
With restricted free agents Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov still unsigned, the Lightning have roughly $6.6 million in cap space. Kucherov’s new deal is likely to take up much of the available salary and Nesterov should make a dent in whatever is left over. That might not leave much room for the Lightning to bring Wisniewski in, but lucky for Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman, Wisniewski’s probably more for the opportunity to play than he is for a healthy salary.
Thanks to the buyout of the final year of his contract, Wisniewski is set to earn $1 million in salary in each of the next two seasons and he had already earned $30 million of his six-year, $33-million deal before being bought out by Carolina. In that sense, league minimum could be a real option for Wisniewski.
Even after a year off, the biggest issue facing Wisniewski will be health and whether the Lightning want to gamble on him being able to play upwards of 70 games this coming campaign. Wisniewski has only been able to remain healthy enough to play 70-plus games twice in the past decade, and coming back from an ACL tear is no small feat. Regardless of his injury problems, though, Wisniewski’s offensive ability could be intriguing enough to land him a deal.
He has been a half-point per game player and excluding the 2015-16 campaign — only because he was forced to miss the entire year — Wisniewski is the 27th-highest scoring defenseman from 2007-08 to 2014-15 with 49 goals and 257 points in 482 games. Over that same span, he ranks 20th with 27 power play goals and his 114 power play points rank 26th. The Lightning could do much worse than having Wisniewski in the one-timer position on the second power play unit.
It will all come down to Wisniewski’s training camp performance and making the salary numbers work, though. But if Wisniewski delivers and the Lightning find a way to make it work, the tryout deal could turn into one of the off-season’s most clever moves.
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