Lets go to "Tom Benjamin Fantasy Island" for a second and start dreaming of the world if the Cap wasn't in place... Lets make it the same economic system that was in place before the shit hit the fan... Lets assume 2004-05 was wiped off player contracts and perchance a rollback occured... Just what happens to the Lightning under those circumstances?
The Free Agent Class remains Nikolai Khabibulin, Dave Andreychuk, Tim Taylor, etc. and those not tendered qualifying offers by the Lightning.... Why wouldn't the Lightning offer players (like Brad Lukowich) contracts? Because of the rising cost to keep the Lightning together. Any Tampa Bay fan would remember the Lightning ran a tight financial ship before the lockout and only in the past season or two had allowed the extra spending to acquire key pieces of the puzzle.
The Lightning would have to also deal still with the RFA status of the likes of Boyle, Lecavalier, St. Louis and Fedotenko as we already know it.
Khabibulin doesn't get offered 6+ million on the free agent market and that starts the merry-go-round of money.... New York, needing a solid netminder to help rebuild the Rangers, offers 10 million a season even after the salary rollback. The NHL is sent into a tizzy and Khabibulin accept the contractual offer that sets the NHL bar much higher than before.
Restricted Free Agents Jerome Ignila and Joe Thornton command 9 to 11 million a year from their respective teams. Thornton's demands aren't met and he holds out, while Jerome inks his 33.6 million dollar, 3 year contract.
Jay Feaster starts talking with Kent Hughes and the numbers are astronomical for what Vinny is interested in... Jay decides to put Vinny on the backburner just a bit and focus on Ruslan Fedotenko - who's trying to get 3.5 million for his services after what he did in the Stanley Cup Final. Jay gets him down to 2.7 million a year in a 2 year contract and then moves on to NHLPA sycophant Tim Taylor. Taylor would be happy to rejoin the Lightning at the sum of 1.5 million a year and lets be known that other teams are interested in his service....
Meanwhile Kent Hughes starts playing the media game where he's upset that his client is not getting up front status with the Lightning. "He was only the MVP of the World Cup Tournament and helped the Lightning win the Cup, you'd think they'd make his re-signing a priority...."
Martin St. Louis' demands are more frugal than numbers being thrown out by the Lecavalier camp. Marty will be happy with a 4-5 million dollar contract as long as it's long term. Jay and team president Bill Campbell can't see a problem with that and the winger is re-signed.
Marian Hossa talks Ottawa into a deal that stands just below Iggy's money in Calgary -- 10.7 million a season for two years. The Lecavalier camp is more than happy to start mentioning in Quebec and other Canadian provinces, how Vinny was a more valuable asset than Hossa and worth at least the same.
The problem is the Lightning can't afford him.
The Lightning can't afford Lecavalier and with this insane money being offered in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Detroit, Colorado and Dallas, the rest of the league is feeling the pinch. Edmonton has put their team up for sale. Pittsburgh has declared their intention to relocate to Portland and Miami is in secret talks to amscray to Winnipeg.
What happens with the Lightning? Vinny doesn't get his money and a bitter holdout ensues that lasts the season. The next off season the money goes up in those select few markets once again and this time Brad Richards has the outlandish demands (and Pat Morris can run circles around Kent Hughes and his negotiation style).
So, in preserving the status quo - the death of the Lightning (though with up and coming defensive prospects in the system) at the hands of being priced out at their own success is a much quicker game. The open market, capitalist system wins again and who loses? The fans in Tampa... But we don't count in the grand scheme of the NHL anyway... Not under the new rule of Commish Chris Chelios, who succeeds Gary Bettman. Vancouver wins the Cup even after Todd Bertuzzi gets arrested on murder charges for decapitating Martin Brodeur out of frustration of the New Jersey Devi's trapping system.
Yes, some of the above speculation is outlandish and hogwash but then again - you just never know how things are going to happen for sure.... Did we expect this much financial insanity and free agent binge spending after a Salary Cap was finally put into place?