Southeast Division Free Agency: Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning are in better position than the previous two teams I looked at. They went from a bottom-feeder to one game away from the Stanley Cup in the matter of one year. Lots of credit goes to their new GM Steve Yzerman and head coach Guy Boucher but the potential for this team to be good has been there for awhile. Steven Stamkos won a split of the Richard Trophy the previous season, Victor Hedman gets better with every season and Martin St. Louis has always been consistent with his production. The difference last year was that Yzerman was able to build a better supporting cast around them with players like Dominic Moore, Simon Gagne, Eric Berwer and Sean Bergenheim. That and the acquisition of Dwayne Roloson finally gave them some stable goaltending which made them a contender and they came very close to making the Stanley Cup finals. Yzerman has locked up most of his free agents for next season and appear to be ready for another run. The big question now for the Bolts is surrounding Stamkos and what kind of contract Yzerman will give him

What Have They Done So Far?

Re-Signed RW Blair Jones to a one-year deal worth $525,000 – Decent bottom-six forward and can usually be counted on for the Lightning to play a few games when injuries to other players occur. Good decision to keep him around.

Re-Signed D Eric Brewer to a four-year deal worth $15.4 mil – Hard for the Lightning to not bring Brewer back after how well he played for them. However, a four-year deal for someone who is going to be 36 when the deal runs out is a bit sketchy, especially for someone like Brewer who has battled with injuries in previous years. His huge role as the Lightning’s shutdown guy in the playoffs definitely kept him from getting a more significant paycut than he did, but it should be noted that he got dominated in a few games in the Boston series which I tracked chances for, showing he has some limits. It’s a risky move which could pay off for them depending on how well Brewer plays and how much his role decreases over this contract. It will look bad if he is only the third-pairing defenseman by the end of this contract.

Traded F Marc-Antoine Pouliot to the Coyotes for a 7th round pick – Wasn’t doing much when he was called up to the Lightning but he had a very good season with the Norfolk Admirals with 72 points in 44 games. That said, Pouliot never made a big splash in Edmonton despite cruising in the AHL there, as well so it was good for the Lightning to get something out of a player who was going to be a free agent and wasn’t contributing to their main roster.

Traded future considerations to the Islanders for D Bruno Gervais – This is the Lightning choosing Gervais over Matt Smaby and Mike Lundin to be their 7th defenseman seeing how they didn’t tender either of those two’s contracts and signed Gervais to a one-year $550k deal. All three play similar roles in which they are 3rd pairing defensemen but Lundin kind of struggled early in the season when he was getting top-4 minutes and had a bigger contract than Gervais and Smaby didn’t fare well against weak competition. My guess is this is the Bolts trying to save money because tendering Gervais contract would cost slightly less than Lundin’s and they didn’t feel Lundin was worth the extra $200k or so. I think Lundin is a slightly better player than Gervais but it probably doesn’t matter much now as they won’t see that much ice time.

Re-signed D Marc Andre Bergeron to a one-year deal worth $1 mil – Cashing in on a strong playoffs with a one-year contract. He had one of the best scoring chance ratios among Lightning defensemen but it helps when your coach uses your strengths to your advantage and only uses you in offensive situations (69.2 OZONE%). Bergeron is as advertised; Good powerplay quarterback and decent 3rd pairing defenseman but he is a liability in his own zone. Therefore, the Lightning knew they couldn’t overpay him too much so a $1 mil contract isn’t that bad for MAB.

Re-signed RW Adam Hall to a one-year $600k deal- Great defensive forward and he seemed to thrive in the Lightning’s system on their shut-down line last year and even managed to contribute offensively a little bit. Can never have too man solid third liners at cheap contracts.

Re-signed G Dwayne Roloson to a one-year $3 mil deal – Roloson may have saved the Lighning’s season as they were exceeding in every category except goaltending before he showed up. They became an even better team then and he was simple outstanding in the post-season. $3 mil isn’t a bad deal for a team with plenty of cap-space and especially not bad for a one-year contract. His age is a concern but he always seems to give teams great value with his contracts over his career so we’ll see if that trend continues this season.

Cap Crunch

Tampa Bay currently have about $46 million invested in 17 players (9 forwards, 7 defensemen, 1 goalie) under contract which gives them a little under $18 mil to play with. Their #1 priority is locking up Stamkos for awhile and they definitely have the space to do it but after that, there are some holes on the roster which should be addressed:

Malone ($4,500,000) – Stamkos (RFA) – St. Louis ($5,625,000)
??? – Lecavalier ($7,727,273) – Downie ($1,100,000)
??? – Moore ($1,100,000) – Purcell (RFA)
Tyrell ($845,833) – Thompson ($900,000) – Hall ($600,000)
Ritola ($516, 667)

Brewer ($3,850,000) – Ohlund ($4,607,143)
Kubina ($3,850,000) – Hedman ($3,500,000)
Clark ($1,500,000) – Bergeron ($1,000,000)
Gervais ($550,000)

Roloson ($3,000,000)
???

RFA: Stamkos, Purcell
UFA: Lundin, Smaby, Gagne, Bergenheim

Team Needs:

I am not buying for a second that Tampa will not re-sign Stamkos. He is too important to the organization for them not to do that and they have the cap space to re-sign him. Offer sheets are a fun thing to think about but I think Tampa will match any offer that’s thrown their way unless it’s something like $8-10 mil per year. Even then, the idea of a team forfeiting four first round picks for one player (who has two amazing seasons under his belt) just seems like it won’t happen, at least not this off-season. Stamkos is the #1 priority and it will stay that way. Aside from that, Tampa Bay needs to find two left wingers to replace Sean Bergeheim and Simon Gagne. Someone like Joel Ward seems like a perfect replacement for Bergenheim. He takes a lot of defensive draws, can provide secondary scoring and is a very good third line player who could be a good replacement for Bergenheim. Players like Tomas Fleischmann, Michael Ryder and Raffi Torres are intriguing as well. I’m not sure who will replace Gagne because there aren’t too many appealing options via free agency but a trade isn’t out of the realm of possibility because they have a few extra forwards who would make decent trade-bait. The only other need is finding a back-up for Roloson because I don’t know if they want to have him playing 70+ games this season at the age of 43. Cedrick Desjardins might be called upon to be the full-time back-up because he did well in the few games he played last year and they had after their failed experiment with Dan Ellis last year, they may go within the organization for this instead of free agency.

Expectations:

The Bolts appear to be in good shape for next season. St. Louis and Lecavalier are in their 30’s but their play didn’t show that the last year and I see no reason why a squad that mostly resembles the one they had last year shouldn’t have the same, if not higher expectations. There are some concerns here, mostly on the blue line. Kubina didn’t live up to expectations last season and was hurt for a good part of it. I am having trouble envisioning Marc-Andre Bergeron playing as well as he did last year and it’s possible that Brewer’s play could regress and Mattias Ohlund isn’t exactly at the point in his career where he is a top-2 defenseman but Hedman might take over that role soon. I still think that the Lightning will contend for the Southeast title and might even win it.

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