Earlier today the Lightning announced it had retained the negotiating rights to five restricted free agents while forgoing the same opportunity with two:

Qualified 2011-2012 Cap Hit Not Qualified 2011-2012 Cap Hit
Keith Aulie $733,333 Mike Kostka $525,000
Jaroslav Janus $658,333 Benoit Pouliot $1,100,000
Brian Lee $875,000
Brian Mikkelson $721,875
Evan Oberg $1,562,500

It shouldn’t surprise anybody to see that Aulie, Lee and Mikkelson were qualified. All were acquired last season and are young, affordable big-league options at a position the Lightning are thin at. The qualification of Janus, despite the present uncertainty concerning where he’ll be playing in 2012-2013, is also logical given how cheap his rights are to hold onto; at most he’ll be earning a minor league salary and if he goes to Europe in search of more playing time his rights won’t cost a dime.

That the Lightning opted to qualify Oberg despite his high (relative to his role in the organization) cap hit and not risk losing him by letting him become an unrestricted free agent shows how much the organization values him, though it seems pretty clear this is a move for Syracuse; having Oberg to ice for critical minutes helps maintain the defensive depth there.

The most curious move, really, is the decision not to qualify Pouliot, whom the Lightning had just obtained the rights to during the draft this past weekend. By doing so, Pouliot will become free to negotiate with any team come July 1 so the obvious risk is that the Lightning may end up having traded a fifth-round pick for nothing. However, as Peter Pupello, the Lightning’s official beat reporter, explains, this move is “strategic” (Pouliot had arbitration rights) and it seems likely Pouliot will end up a Bolt sooner or later as both sides seem optimistic a deal will get done.

Written by Michael Gallimore

Michael was born, raised and still lives in the Tampa area. His coverage of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL and hockey in general appears at Bolt Statistics (which he founded) and Bolt Prospects (as a staff writer). His analysis and opinions have also been featured at Raw Charge and as part of a “Blogger Roundtable” on the Lightning’s official site.

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