Before the 2011 NHL free agency frenzy begins, I want to throw out a couple of thoughts that are specifically directed at Lightning free agents Sean Bergenheim and Mike Smith, but also applies to any other UFA from the Lightning at current (hello, Mike Lundin, we didn't want this to happen. And Simon Gagne? All the best):
You've heard about the salary cap rising next season to just over $64 million... You should also be aware the salary floor is going up too. Teams will have to spend at least $48.3 million in payroll in the 2011-12 season. Couple that with a mediocre free agent class and a plethora of teams currently under the salary floor, and that becomes a recipe for salary escalation and over-paying for player services.
This brings us back to Sean Bergenheim, who made a paltry $700,000 last season and has become one of the marquee forwards that will be on the market at Noon today. He's not just expecting a raise, he's going to get one shoved down his throat. Will it bring the same winning opportunity that he saw in Tampa? Can't tell you. I can tell you that he likely won't be signing with a team that has him slated for the 3rd line in a grinder/agitator role, like what was asked of him in Tampa.
Mike Smith has redeemed himself in the eyes of many Lightning fans, or at least a vocal percentage of them, with his playoff performances. Yet sharing starting duties with Dwayne Roloson in 2011-12 while taking a pay-cut, is a catalyst for him to test the waters before deciding if he'll stay in TB or pursue opportunities elsewhere.
But there's another fact that fans have to keep in mind: Everything shouldn't be settled today. There will be player signings throughout July and into August by teams that are trying to be deliberate in their building. So don't panic with player signings elsewhere and little to no news from Tampa Bay. The roster is pretty much set as-is, and the Bolts need to find the right pieces to complete the puzzle