The Lightning’s season may have ended in early April but, as with any sports team, enthusiasts have stayed busy speculating what changes the off-season might bring via message boards and Twitter. With less than 48 hours remaining before the start of free agency (noon on July 1) that interest is only going to intensify as the frenzied hours of announced signings, missing details and outright bogus claims gets closer and closer. It seems appropriate to reflect upon the Lightning’s current state in terms of personnel and cap space, assess it’s needs and, especially given that the free agent market is essentially set now, identify potential targets.

The Lightning Right Now

There are twenty forwards, eleven defensemen and four goalies signed for next season (see the list here) but only nine of the forwards, six of the defensemen and one of the goalies have a one-way contract for a total salary cap commitment, including the buyout of Vinny Prospal and also factoring in Mattias Ohlund, who is on the books but seems likely to miss another season despite attempting to rehab from surgery for the traumatic knee injury he suffered in training camp last fall, of $47,741,083 + Aulie’s cap hit, leaving the Bolts just under $23 million in cap space.

It seems fair to assume the players with two-way contracts who finished the season with the Lightning (Keith AulieJ.T. BrownBrett ConnollyJ.T. Wyman) would make the Lightning if the season were start today only with those already under contract. Aulie in particular seems likely to stick with the big club as as he would have to pass through waivers if assigned to Syracuse, the Lighting’s new AHL affiliate. The cap commitment, including these players, would be $51,324,416, leaving Tampa Bay approximately $20 million in cap space.

Also in need of consideration are G Anders Lindback and FW Benoit Pouliot. The Lightning qualified Lindback, a restricted free agent, but have yet to sign him to a new deal. As the expected starter, Lindback is a lock. As for Pouliot, the Lightning decided not to qualify him in order to prevent him from filing for arbitration, so he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the stroke of noon on Sunday. However, Pouliot remains “committed” to Tampa Bay according to his agent and seems fair to pencil in. Their signings should take up between $3 and $4 million in additional cap space.

Thus, the Lightning’s roster presently projects to something like this:

LW C RW
Purcell Stamkos St. Louis
Malone Lecavalier Connolly
Pouliot Thompson Brown
Hall Wilson Pyatt
Wyman Tyrell
LD RD
Hedman  Brewer
Lee Bergeron
Aulie Mikkelson
G
Lindback
Garon

The Lightning’s Needs

With the goalie position is obviously set and the forward corps, though it could use some additional tinkering, already well-stocked, the Lightning’s area of greatest need remains at defense for which at least one top-4 minute-eater is a necessity. Yzerman laid out the strategy for bolstering the defense very plainly:

“We’ll make inquiries on (Sunday) to see if we can add anybody,” Yzerman said. “…If we can’t do it through free agency we’ll look through trade.”

And, if Yzerman can’t get who he wants after scouring the free agent or trade markets? In that event, a prospect (i.e. Mark Barberio, Radko Gudas or Evan Oberg) could be counted on to make the leap.

As for up front, the Lightning appear in need of another pivot, ideally one who can fill in on the top-6 in the event of injury. They might prioritize face-off capability over offensive upside, though, and may be comfortable with a player who has played primarily as a winger because Boucher’s system does not differentiate as strongly between forward positions as much as others. The solution will be evident soon enough but it’s hard to imagine the Lightning preferring one of the possible internal solutions.

Potential Targets

With the above understanding of what the Lightning need, the next exercise in all of this speculation is trying to identify who’s probably on their radar. This summer’s crop of unrestricted free agent defensemen and forwards was already considered weak before extensions began thinning it further over the course of the season up to the past few days but here’s a short-list from each position that seem likely to garner various levels of interest from the Lightning:

Defensemen

UFA Age Last Team 2011-2012 Cap Hit
Michal Roszival 33 Phoenix Coyotes $5,000,000
Ryan Suter 27 Nashville Predators $3,500,000
Matt Carle 27 Philadelphia Flyers $3,437,500
Bryan Allen 31 Phoenix Coyotes $2,900,000
Sheldon Souray 35 Dallas Stars $1,650,000
Jason Garrison 27 Florida Panthers $675,000
Carlo Colaiacovo 29 St. Louis Blues $2,125,000

Forwards

Name Age 2011-2012 Team 2011-2012 Cap Hit
Daymond Langkow 35 Phoenix Coyotes $4,500,000
Olli Jokinen 33 Calgary Flames $3,000,000
Jiri Hudler 28 Detroit Red Wings $2,875,000
Paul Gaustad 30 Nashville Predators $2,300,000
Jay McClement 29 Calgary Flames $1,450,000
Torrey Mitchell 27 San Jose Sharks $1,366,667
Parenteau, P.A 29 New York Islanders $1,250,000
Dominic Moore 31 San Jose Sharks $1,100,000
Taylor Pyatt 30 Phoenix Coyotes $1,000,000
Kyle Wellwood 29 Winnipeg Jets $700,000

Coveted free agents always come at a premium and this is particularly true with defensemen, of which Suter is clearly the best available come Sunday. The Lightning will probably inquire about his services but, given the league-wide interest Suter is sure to draw, the Bolts will probably find themselves outbid or passed over for other reasons. Carle (capable in his own end but a puck-mover), Garrison (a big-bodied, two-way D with a heavy shot) and Roszival (versatile but a defensive specialist) are the next best options. They’ll be more affordable than Suter but, like Dennis Wideman, are due for hefty paydays of their own; if the Lightning are prepared to pay $4.5 – $5.5 million per, they should have a good shot at landing one of the three.

Yzerman’s best bet, then, may prove to be through the trade market given the strong hints that a few teams are already or may be prepared to start shopping defensemen in order to make room on their clubs for planned or actual acquisitions beginning Sunday.

Failing that, Colaiacovo could be a bargain-priced (provided he stays healthy) consolation prize but won’t do wonders by himself. Acquiring Souray or Allen would be a last resort. Both would probably be more amendable to accepting a shorter-term contract at a very manageable cap hit than others.

As for the forward options, Dominic Moore sticks out, given what he’ll likely command in terms of salary and his familiarity with the Bolts, seems like one of the better remaining fits. Paul Gaustad’s face-off skills, size and strong defensive play would be a welcome addition to the bottom lines but his salary expectations may make him an unrealistic choice. The Lightning would also probably be keenly interested in P.A. Parenteau, who has emerged as a productive top-6 forward with the Islanders, if he wasn’t likely to receive a big-money, multiyear contract; ditto for Hudler. Wellwood would be the most affordable option for adding some more offensive punch.

Langkow and Jokinen also seem unlikely to sign with the Lightning though both would add an interesting wrinkle to the team’s dynamic by slotting behind Stamkos and Lecavalier. Again, their salary expectations, regardless of other obstacles, will probably be enough to squelch whatever level of interest the Lighting might have.

The lower-end options include Pyatt (Tom’s brother), McClement and Mitchell. Pyatt would add more size along with some limited production, McClement a defensively-versatile skill-set and the undersized Mitchell an extra element of speed to the bottom lines but they don’t provide much, if any, of a talent improvement over who the Lightning have already.

Predictions

What would the free agent frenzy period be without some suggested match-making? To that end, here are some (sure-to-be-wrong) educated guesses as to what the Lightning will have accomplished when the dust clears in a few days or weeks:

  • Michal Roszival will be signed for 3 years, $13.5 million total ($4.5 million cap hit)
  • Dominic Moore will be signed for 2 years, $4 million total ($2 million cap hit)
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson will be acquired via trade

Whether or not these come to pass, there will plenty to discuss about what actually transpires beginning Sunday at noon. Thoughts on player signings or trades–Lightning and non-Lightning–and profiles for players the Lightning acquire via signing or trade will be tweeted so be sure give us (@ElectricBlueHT) a follow if you haven’t already!

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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