With all the uncertainty regarding the Tampa Bay Lightning -- the hearsay, the facts, the rumors, the innuendo and all that jazz regarding team finances and makeup – it’s hard to really get a clue about what the Lightning’s plans are in free agency starting July 1st. Stand pat? Salary dumping via trade? Here is just a quick capsule of what GM Brian Lawton and the Bolts will be dealing with once the free agency period opens on Wednesday:
Pending UFAs: Gary Roberts (Retired), Jason Ward, Marek Malik, Josef Melichar, Janne Niskala (Europe), David Koci, Matt Pettinger, Wade Brookback, Cory Murphy, Mike McKenna (not tendered qualifying offer), Richard Petiot (Group VI), Noah Welch (Group VI)
Projected 2009-2010 Salary Cap: $56.8-million
Salary Cap Space: Approx. $21.220
Projected Budget: Unknown (rumors say the salary floor or midway to the Cap)
Key needs: What isn’t a need for the Bolts right now? Getting it’s RFA defensemen back is a must, and after having 2nd string goalie Karri Ramo poached by the KHL (and not tendering Mike McKenna a qualifying offer), it’s a necessity for the Lightning to look for a veteran netminder as backup. Besides that, a defensive leader would be nice (puck mover with the ability to rub off on the young defensive core) and a scoring wing to compliment Captain Vincent Lecavalier (if he remains past July 1st).
Potential Targets: The Lightning’s budget situation really makes this a big question. What could the Lightning afford? Speculation about how much they are going to spend all of next season makes this critical. They have room to play financially, but that does not mean they have the economic clout in order to do it. The Bolts do not want to sign aging players, but younger guys – which may mean those not tended contracts by their current team’s will be looked at seriously. In a wishful-thinking world, defensemen Mattias Ohlund and winger Alex Tanguay would be chased, while a goalie would be added for depth and the ability to push the Lightning’s under-contract goaltending crop: Mike Smith, Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokarski. Antero Niittymaki comes to mind. I do expect the Bolts do do bigger research and go for smaller names at each position though.
What our rivals want: The Panthers have their own Goaltending depth issues and are looking to bring in a backup as well – they also could really use a top line center. Atlanta is in a difficult situation (ownership woes), but to define it – they need to diversify up front. It can’t be a one-player show with Kovalchuk. Washington and Carolina, though they can’t rest on their laurels and need to explore improving, are pretty tight as-is.