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After breakthrough season, Tampa Bay Lightning face tough off-season questions

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Tampa Bay Lightning players, fans and front office members probably woke up with some sadness in their hearts today after the team fell just a bit short of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. That being said, there probably weren’t many people who expected them to get this far in just the first full season for new GM Steve Yzerman and head coach Guy Boucher.

Yet there might be another reason many people around the franchise have heavy hearts this morning: the Lightning face some tough decisions going into this summer. On the bright side, Yzerman can put his stamp on this team with a ton of salary cap space. Various sources indicate that the salary cap ceiling will range from $60.5-$63.5 million, which would leave the Lightning with about $24-$27 million to work with and 9-12 roster spots to fill. On the not-so-bright side, some of the most important players from the 2011 playoff run (and 2010-11 regular season) need new contracts.

Let’s take a look at the many tough calls Yzerman and his staff face this summer.

Steven Stamkos (restricted free agent – previous cap hit: $3.725 million) – How much will the Lightning need to pay Stamkos, a 21-year-old forward who posted two 90+ point seasons, with 51 goals in 2009-10 and 45 in 10-11? If you ask me, the Lightning would have been better off signing him soon after July 1, 2010, before the league really started clamping down on “loophole” contracts with Ilya Kovalchuk. Don’t be surprised if Stamkos shoots for a Vincent Lecavalier-level $7 million+ salary cap contract, although Yzerman will probably try to point him closer to Martin St. Louis’ $5.25 million annual cap hit.

Either way, the days of getting Stamkos’ production for less than they pay Ryan Malone ($4.5 million) are over.

Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith (unrestricted free agents – previously registered $2.5 million cap hits each) – Both of the goalies the Lightning started during the Eastern Conference finals will be unrestricted free agents on July 1. The 41-year-old Roloson won’t require a long-term deal while Smith will probably take a pay cut after failing to stick as a No. 1 goalie, so neither netminder should be super-pricey. Neither seem like iron-clad solutions in net, either, though. Will Yzerman opt to shoot for a free agent goalie such as Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun instead?

Simon Gagne (unrestricted – previously $5.25 million) – When healthy, Gagne is an asset, especially in the playoffs (12 points in 15 postseason games in 2011; 12 in 19 in 2010). The questions are: how healthy can the Lightning expect him to be and what kind of term is he looking for? At 31-years-old, Gagne could reasonably ask for a 5-6 year deal and get it (somewhere). I’m just not sure if Tampa Bay would be that place.

Teddy Purcell (restricted – previously $750K) and Sean Bergenheim (unrestricted – previously $700K) – Stamkos, Gagne and the goalies were predictable problems for Yzerman. How many people saw the red-hot playoff runs by Purcell (six goals, 17 points) and Bergenheim (nine goals, 11 points) coming, though? Bergenheim might make more money since he’s an unrestricted free agent and received more buzz from the hockey media (despite scoring six fewer points). Either way, their accountants probably feel more confident now than they did in April.

Eric Brewer (unrestricted – previously $4.25 million) – A lot of people thought Brewer was “done” before the St. Louis Blues traded him to the Lightning, yet he lead a shaky Tampa Bay defense in ice time with 25:42 minutes per game in the postseason. That’s about 3:30 more per game than the second leading skater, Victor Hedman. Brewer is likely to take a pay cut with his next contract, but he probably regained some bargaining power during the playoff run.

Others: Adam Hall, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Randy Jones (unrestricted); Mike Lundin and Matt Smaby (restricted).

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As you can see, the Lightning need to make some tough choices this summer. They also need to factor in the summer of 2012, too, as Victor Hedman, Steve Downie, Dominic Moore and other players will see their contracts expire at that time.

Ultimately, we’ll see if Yzerman can continue the momentum from a great first season in a much tougher second summer. Tampa Bay features plenty of firepower on offense, but have questions in net and problems on defense. It should be fascinating to watch what direction this team takes as the 2010-11 season approaches. We’ll keep you informed along the way.

Las Vegas hires former Panthers director of player personnel Scott Luce

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24:  Director of scouting Scott Luce of the Florida Panthers smiles before day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Scott Luce has gone from the Florida Panthers to the Las Vegas expansion franchise.

The new NHL organization — still searching for a team name — announced Thursday that it has hired Luce as its new director of amateur scouting.

Luce spent the last 14 years in Florida, as a scout and as director of player personnel.

Luce was let go earlier in the offseason, as the Panthers underwent massive change within their front office, with the promotion of Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to GM, and more attention to analytics.

Report: Avalanche bring Rene Bourque in for a PTO

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 27: Rene Bourque #18 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 27, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After announcing the hiring of Jared Bednar as their next head coach, the Colorado Avalanche have brought in forward Rene Bourque on a professional tryout, according to James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail.

Bourque became an unrestricted free agent at the beginning of July, after his six-year contract worth a total value of $20 million expired. The annual cap hit on his previous deal was $3.333 million.

He spent last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring three goals and eight points in 49 games. He was placed on waivers at the end of February.

During the 2014-15 campaign, he spent time with the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks and the Blue Jackets, before a back injury sidelined him for the remainder of that season.

Panthers need to keep Luongo rested and refreshed after offseason hip surgery

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo (1) reacts after New York Islanders Thomas Hickey scored the game-winning goal during overtime in Game 3 of an NHL hockey first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, Sunday, April 17, 2016, in New York. The Islanders won 4-3. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
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This post is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo has provided an encouraging update on his comeback from offseason surgery.

At the age of 37 and with 926 regular season games under his belt, Luongo had hip surgery earlier this summer. There was discussion at the time that he might not be ready for the beginning of the regular season in October, but it appears there is reason for optimism with his rehab.

The Panthers open the season at home against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 13.

“I started skating Aug. 5 and there has been slow progression but we’ve ramped it up here the past week or so and it has been good,” Luongo told George Richards of the Miami Herald.

“I’m not 100 percent; it’s a five month rehab. But I’m feeling better than I thought I would. I thought it would be a slower progression, especially on the ice. It has gone fairly quickly and I’m happy about that. If the season were to start tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t be able to go. But I feel good where I’m at and I’m excited about it.”

Because of Luongo’s age — he’ll celebrate his 38th birthday next April, just before the playoffs begin — the Panthers made a prudent move in free agency by signing James Reimer to a five-year deal, worth a total value of $17 million.

To add further depth at the goalie position, the Panthers also brought in Reto Berra.

The Panthers, at least based on what GM Tom Rowe has said, are in no rush to bring Luongo back until he’s ready.

“Everything will be determined by how Lou gets through the offseason with his rehabilitation. Right now, it’s going really well. We’ll take it one day at a time. We don’t want to rush him back. We want him to come back on his schedule and just make sure we’re doing everything the right way,” said Rowe in July.

Signing Reimer is a move for the future, both long and short term.

He could, this season, take a considerable amount of games as a reliable No. 2, which could help keep Luongo’s energy levels up. And that should be very beneficial for the Panthers, considering Luongo still had a very good season as one of the oldest starters in the league.

Last season, Luongo appeared in 62 regular season games for the Panthers. He posted strong numbers, with a .922 save percentage. He followed that up in the post-season with a .934 save percentage in six games.

He saw plenty of playing time, more than 3,600 minutes. He faced more than 1,800 shots. It all took a toll, as he expressed fatigue in the playoffs.

The expectation is the Panthers make it back to the post-season, perhaps do some damage, too.

Having a rested and refreshed Luongo in goal would certainly help their cause.

‘He doesn’t seem to get rattled’: Blues officially name Alex Pietrangelo team captain

St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks' in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
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The news leaked a day early, but on Thursday the St. Louis Blues made it official: Alex Pietrangelo is the 21st captain in the club’s history.

Selected fourth overall in 2008, Pietrangelo has played 459 games for the Blues, with 51 goals and 255 points in that span. He takes over the ‘C’ from David Backes, who signed with the Boston Bruins as a free agent this summer, following the Blues’ run to the Western Conference Final.

“Watching him perform when the game is on the line, he doesn’t seem to get rattled,” said Blues GM Doug Armstrong of Pietrangelo, as per the club’s website.

“As the captain, you have to answer questions, the tough questions when games are over. I really like his personality, his demeanor to his teammates, to the coaching staff and to the media. He’s someone that has the respect of everyone.”

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the end of July, Pietrangelo praised Backes for the impact he had on the young defenseman as he was developing with the Blues.

“I think being so close with Dave over the five years he was captain, I’ve learned a lot from him just kind of sitting back and seeing how he operates on a daily basis,” said Pietrangelo.

“Not only on the ice but off the ice, which is a big part of it trying to keep the locker room together and doing the off-ice stuff.”

The Blues also announced that Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, Vladimir Tarasenko and Kevin Shattenkirk were named as assistant captains.