Who stays, who goes?

I've been pondering the future of this Lightning roster for some time but the playoff shave solidified soem of my inklings and some of my hunches.

Changes are a foot -- don't expect a grand retooling with spending all over but expect changes none the less. Of course, all of these changes or moves will be only brought to fruitation with the cooperation between players, agents and Jay feaster as well as the market.

Who's Out:

If there was any player who has applied for a ticket out of town, it's Ruslan Fedotenko. A fan favorite, he seemed to become disillusioned after not getting a big contract offer to re-sign during the last off-season and took a one-year deal instead. Rusty then proceeded to have his season of high-expectations turn into a season of mediocrity and was benched during the playoffs. A player who was in a contract year, expectations to pick up the slack from a missing offensive cog (Fredrik Modin) and fell apart on ice isn't likely to remain in town.

Of course there are always circumstances that may keep Rusty in town but with his lack of performance and lack of clicking on the top two lines, his days in TB are likely numbered...

Meanwhile, I'm wondering what to make of defensivemen Cory Sarich and Nolan Pratt. Both are unrestricted free agents and their plus/minus (-5 for Sarich, Even for Pratt) may make them attractive targets for other teams. Sarich is the most interesting question of the two D-men because he seemed to be playing out of his element this season. Sarich is a much more physical presence on ice and to see him playing stick-work defense left me wondering just what the deal was? I'm not even goign to suggest Sarich isn't cut out for the new NHL as has been suggested for former Lightning defensivemen Jassen Cullimore and Daryl Sydor. It's really a question of how he should be worked in.

Regardless, both players will be able to command multi-million dollar deals and with the Lightning expected to shed payroll this off-season, one or both defensivemen may be bid adeiu while cheaper veterans (or rookies Matt Smaby, Mike Egener or Andy Rogers among other prospects) may get their chance to fill the void.

I won't even get into Marc Denis. His scratching for the entire playoffs tells the tale of his future with the team - practically over. The question is where and when he will be headed out of town. I expect Vaclav Prospal to return but to be dangled as trade bait if and when needed. Rob DiMaio's concussion continues to linger and while I don't like posting this, he may very well be a forced retirement due to his health.

Who's Back

Before we get into guys who suited up on the roster this season, lets go to the one guy who didn't -- Evgeny Artyukhin. It was reported in the St. Pete Times that Artoo didn't have a good time back at home and may make up with Jay Feaster this off season. Though I see a two-way contract in Artoo's future, I also see him in Tampa Bay next year and playing on the 3rd line to start the season.

That being said, the biggest resigning the Lightning need to take care of is Jason Ward if you believe it. Ward was acquired at the deadline this season (and at the time, I was dumbstruck by the move) and came to town playing the needed role of the defensive forward. He's clicked with Brad Richards on the fly and one has to wonder what Ward and Richards can do together during a full season. Ward is a unrestricted free agent though and his play down the stretch and during the first round may bring him bigger offers than what Jay Feaster is willing to pay. He'd be valuable to keep on with the Lightning, however.

Think what you will of Johan Holmqvist, he's due back with the Lightning next season. His cost and his stability (if not consistency) will keep him around. He's also a great shoot-out performer between the pipes and that alone helped Tampa Bay make the playoffs this season.

I also fully expect Eric Perrin to return as well as Andreas Karlsson... Though I will not be shocked if Karlsson departs the Lightning, I will be if Perrin leaves. Doug Janik is on the bubble - I can see him staying or going.

For a complete list of Tampa Bay Lightning free agents (both Unrestricted and restricted) click here.

Needs?

If the season proved anything it was that Tampa Bay lacked a second line threat. Martin St. Louis was shuttled between Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards while Richards on the 2nd line couldn't find a scoring partner like former linemate Freddie Modin. With Fedotenko playing himself out of town and not clicking on either line this season, a left wing will be something Jay Feaster has to shop for.

Defense will likely be shopped for if Janik, Sarich and Pratt all leave. Though the Lightning have defensive prospects, Feaster will not want to throw all of them to the wolves (and potentially compromise the Lightning next season).

And the search for goalie help will continue.

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