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).


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.

Oilers get Kronwall’d – in more ways than one

Niklas Kronwall
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When someone gets clobbered by Niklas Kronwall, they get Kronwall’d.

(His detractors may insist that the definition require the words “dirty” or “illegal,” but that’s a debate for another day.)

It’s easy to get lost in those thunderous hits and forget that the  Swedish defenseman also brings some skill to the table.

He made a big impact – literally and figuratively – in Detroit’s 4-3 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.

First, the Kronwalling:

Next, Kronwall’s overtime-winner:

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Red Wings are leaning on guys like Kronwall and Dylan Larkin to stick with it.

Tonight’s win extends their point streak to six games (4-0-2), with five of those contests going to overtime.

Dubinsky – Crosby’s nemesis – gets the last laugh on Friday

Sidney Crosby, Brandon Dubinsky

Brandon Dubinsky isn’t a household name like Sidney Crosby is, yet for all the hype that Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin gets, Dubinsky is the sort of guy who truly rankles No. 87.

It’s been getting that spotlight since the Columbus Blue Jackets faced off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a brisk playoff series, though it wouldn’t be surprising if the bad blood stemmed to Dubinsky’s days with New York.

To some, Dubinsky’s cross-check on Crosby will resonate far more than the end result of this game:

The bottom line is that he’ll get the last laugh, at least for now. (In-game, that moment merely drew a minor penalty.)

That’s because Dubinsky set up the overtime game-winner, and the cherry on the top of that spite sundae came with Crosby being on the ice when it happened:

They’re not just rubbing the Penguins the wrong way.

Even Dubinsky kind of sort of admits that he may have been in the wrong.


More and more, the Blue Jackets are looking like a nuisance … possibly one that will grind their way to an unlikely playoff berth. They improved to 8-4-0 in November after a disastrous 2-10-0 October.

In other words, there’s at least a chance that we may see these increasingly bitter rivals butt heads in another playoff series.

Eichel’s sweet snipe helps Sabres snap six-game skid

Jack Eichel
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The Buffalo Sabres probably deserved better during at least some chunks of their six-game skid, yet Jack Eichel swooped in on Friday to remind fans that there’s a light shining at the end of the tunnel.

You can watch his goal from tonight’s eventual 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in the video above.

That’s not necessarily the absolute height of his on-ice magic, yet it clearly gave his team a lift:

Call this a healthy reminder that Eichel has the ability to change games, something Buffalo fans hope to get used to.

Report: Likely no suspension for Matt Beleskey’s hit on Derek Stepan


Alain Vigneault went there in comparing Matt Beleskey‘s hit on Derek Stepan to the notorious check Aaron Rome delivered on Nathan Horton many moons ago, but the league seems to disagree.

While Rome sat through that memorable Stanley Cup Final between Boston and Vancouver, it sounds like Beleskey won’t face any further discipline, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

In the unlikely event that anything changes, PHT will make note.

The next game between the Rangers and Bruins takes place at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 11. Will these bad feelings linger?