The first day of free agency has come and gone and proved less dramatic than some perhaps expected as FW Zach Parise and D Ryan Suter, the consensus two best free agents available, remain unsigned. They weren’t the busiest club, but the Lightning were fairly active today, first announcing the team had come to terms with recently-acquired forward Benoit Pouliot, a restricted free agent who was set to hit the market after the Lightning declined to qualify him, on a 1-year, $1.8 million deal soon after the free agency period began. The signing of 19-year old prospect defenseman Artem Sergeev to an entry-level contract then followed before news broke several hours later that the Lightning had additionally signed long-time Canuck defenseman Sami Salo to a 2-year, $7.5 million contract.
That Pouliot and the Lightning came to terms is hardly surprising as both sides had expressed, to the final hours, confidence a deal would get done. Pouliot, as profiled before, gives the Lightning a player who may be inconsistent no matter where he slots; potentially capable of a career-year offensively if he earns top-line and power-play minutes but at the very least, and far more likely, probably destined to provide some offensive punch mostly as a bottom-liner.
Sergeev is an interesting addition to the prospect pool in that he’s a right-shooting defenseman with a good frame (6’2″, 200 pounds) for his age (19) who might, with time, who will become one heck of a find if he develops into something more than minor-league fodder. Also of note is his connection to Lightning prospects Nikita Gusev, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov and Andrei Vasilevski, all of whom he played with on this year’s Under-20 Russian squad in the World Juniors Championship.
Salo was a fine addition in the sense that he provides an additional right-shot to the defense corps beyond Brian Lee, plenty of NHL experience to share with the younger members and may potentially be a boost to the power play with his heavy shot and efficiency as a passer. A $3.75 million cap hit sure seems a steep price for a 37 year-old as injury-prone as Salo but the odds are pretty good he’ll play at least 60+ games but Yzerman certainly downplayed the concern for his past:
“I have a good idea of the history of his injuries and none of these — knock on wood — are the type that are joint related or degenerative thing that may limit a player’s career. I just think he’s been banged up and missed games because of various things. To the best of our knowledge he’s in good shape and we hope he’s healthy and can play a majority of games for us.”
In short, Salo provides a small risk the Lightning are content to live with for the marginal upgrade he will probably provide over Kubina or Clark.
Where are the Lightning at now?
The Lightning have twenty forwards, thirteen defensemen and four goalies signed for next season (see the list here) but only ten of the forwards, seven of the defensemen and one of the goalies have a one-way contract. This gives the Lightning a total salary cap commitment, including the buyout of Vinny Prospal, of $52,713,583 at present, leaving the Bolts a bit more than $17 million in cap space. However, there really is less than that for GM Steve Yzerman to work with as projected starter Anders Lindback has yet to be signed to a deal for perhaps as much as $2.5 million per season and it’s also possible that some, or all, of the players with two-way contracts who ended the season with the Lightning (Aulie, Brown, Connolly and Wyman) will be with the big club next season:
Interesting, Yzerman said he might keep one or two forward spots open for players within the organization to try and win.
— Damian Cristodero (@DCristodero) July 1, 2012
The Lightning’s roster now projects to something like this:
What are the Lightning’s needs now?
The Lightning still appear to need to make a move up front, particularly for a center with at least some offensive upside that would allow him to fill in on the top-6 in the event of injury but, the glaring hole for the Lightning’s lineup is still at defense. Salo may be a solid replacement for Ohlund but an established minute-eater for the top-4 is still a necessity, something Yzerman has essentially admitted:
Lightning GM Yzerman said he envisions Salo as a top-four player, but did not rule out adding another blue-liner, and not just for depth.
— Damian Cristodero (@DCristodero) July 1, 2012
The question then becomes whether the Lightning will continue to explore the free agent market or try to pry a top-4 defenseman from another team by trade.
The free agent forward and defenseman markets thinned considerably today but viable options still remain who would address the Lightning’s needs to various extents:
|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|
|Carlo Colaiacovo||29||St. Louis Blues||$2,125,000|
|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|
|Dominic Moore||31||San Jose Sharks||$1,100,000|
|Taylor Pyatt||30||Phoenix Coyotes||$1,000,000|
|Kyle Wellwood||29||Winnipeg Jets||$700,000|
Suter may still be a possibility technically but given some of the rumored contract terms being offered by multiple teams, it’s probably safe to conclude the Lightning are no longer in the running as Yzerman seemed, to Damian Cristodero, to convey earlier today. With Garrison signed by Vancouver, Carle and Roszival remain the next best, but significantly less desirous, options given the hefty paydays they are likely to come by and the fact that they are really more complementary top-4 pieces than outright stalwarts. The Lightning should have a good shot at landing one of two beginning tomorrow but it’s not clear they’ll want to. Colaiacovo remains a possibly bargain-priced (provided he stays healthy) alternative, a sort of consolation prize who isn’t a clear-cut top-4 but has the tools to be.
It’s quite possible that more desirable options are or will be available via trade (BoltProspects took a look at potential trade opportunities) and, if so, Yzerman may be better served waiting to see if he can acquire a significant upgrade for the D that way.
As for the forward options, Dominic Moore is still out there unsigned and, with Gaustad, Torrey Mitchell and Jay McClement already off the market, he makes even more sense than he did coming into today. Given his strong offensive instincts, Wellwood could possibly give the third line a substantially more offensive dynamic but probably at the expense of defensive reliability.
It’s still hard to envision Langkow and Jokinen signing with the Lightning but both would interesting and justifiable choices to slot behind Stamkos and Lecavalier. Langkow, especially, would be a great short-term fit. Their salary expectations, regardless of other potential obstacles, will, again, probably be the deciding factor. Pyatt (Tom’s brother) remains a low-end option, adding a good package of size, reliability and limited offensive production to the bottom lines but doesn’t provide much, if any, of a talent improvement over who the Lightning have already.