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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.

Canucks will be without Rodin ‘until his knee strength and function return’

SASKATOON, SK - JANUARY 3:  Anton Rodin #18 of Team Sweden skates with the puck while being defended by David Warsofsky #5 of Team USA during the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship Tournament Semifinal game on January 3, 2010 at the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.  Team USA defeated Team Sweden 5-2.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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The last time Anton Rodin got into the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup, he sat on the bench the entire game.

Today, the Canucks announced that the 26-year-old winger has re-aggravated the same knee injury he suffered a year ago while playing in Sweden, and now he needs to rest.

“Our Canucks medical team and Anton have determined it is in his best interest to undergo a period of rest, followed by rehab, until his knee strength and function return,” said GM Jim Benning in a release. “Anton will undergo an MRI and orthopedic consult this week.”

In the same release, Benning confirmed that Rodin fell on his knee Jan. 6 against the Flames at Rogers Arena. It was the very next night in Calgary that he didn’t play a single shift, as the Canucks only had five healthy defensemen and were forced to dress 13 forwards.

“Rodin wasn’t 100 percent and once it gets past 10 minutes, it’s hard to get him in and once you do, it’s not fair to play him,” explained head coach Willie Desjardins, per The Province.

It’s a disappointing turn of events for Rodin, who waited a long time to make his NHL debut. He’s only been able to skate in three games for the Canucks, and his ice time was limited in all three.

Rodin started the season on injured reserve after re-aggravating his knee in the preseason.

Related: Anton Rodin is looking to make the leap

Banged-up Pens lose another — Cullen out 3-4 weeks with foot injury

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Matt Cullen #7 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Having already lost Kris Letang to a knee injury and Brian Dumoulin to a broken jaw, the Pens received more tough news in the health department on Tuesday — in the form of veteran forward Matt Cullen.

Cullen was hurt after taking a shot to the foot in last night’s wild 8-7 win over Washington and will miss the next 3-4 weeks, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced.

Cullen, 40, is one of the NHL’s oldest skaters but has been remarkably durable since joining Pittsburgh. In fact, he hasn’t missed a single game — he played in all 82 last season, then all 24 en route to the Stanley Cup, and is one of just seven Penguins to appear in all 43 games this year.

The cagey vet has been steady in terms of production as well. He has eight goals and 17 points thus far, which had him on pace to match last year’s impressive effort (16 goals, 32 points).

It’s a tough break for the Pens, but there is a silver lining. Shortly after announcing Cullen’s injury, Sullivan said Dumoulin would travel for an upcoming road swing through Montreal and Carolina.

 

Jamie Benn admits the stick-snapping rampages have to stop

Fans celebrate along with Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) after a score by Benn in the first period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series game, Monday, April 21, 2014, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Expect a more composed Jamie Benn when the Dallas Stars take on the Rangers tonight in New York.

At the very least, don’t expect another stick-breaking rampage like we saw yesterday in Buffalo.

“I have to do a better job with body language and my play on the ice,” Benn said, per the Dallas Morning News.

He also said of his recent play, “I wish I could say how I really feel, but it’s probably not good for TV.”

The Stars’ captain is understandably frustrated. His team is four points back of a wild-card spot, and his production, with 10 goals in 41 games, is down significantly compared to last season when he finished with 40 goals in 82 games and his team won the Central Division.

Tonight, it doesn’t get any easier. The Stars will take on a Rangers team that will have Mika Zibenajad in their lineup for the first time since Nov. 20. Meanwhile, the rest of the Blueshirts have had two days to recuperate after their 5-4 loss in Montreal on Saturday.

It’s estimated the Stars will need to go around 21-11-5 in their remaining 37 games to make the playoffs. So regardless of their frustrations, they’d best get on a roll soon. A better performance from their captain would be a good start.

Preds claim AHL All-Star Hunt off waivers from Blues

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 09:  Brad Hunt #77 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 9, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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With P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Petter Granberg all out with their respective injuries, the Nashville Predators are a little thin on the blueline.

So on Tuesday, they set about adding some depth.

Brad Hunt, the 28-year-old offensive defenseman, has been claimed off waivers from St. Louis, per TSN. Hunt has spent most of this year with the Blues’ AHL affiliate in Chicago but, in limited time with the big club, has shown pretty well.

The Bemidji State product has five points in nine games for the Blues, while averaging 13:36 TOI per night. He was widely praised for his passing ability, and how quickly he helped the Blues transition from defense to offense.

“[Hunt] just moves the puck,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcok said earlier this year, per the Post-Dispatch. “He gets himself out of trouble, he gets the team out of trouble. He’s a smart player.”

That offensive output is what Hunt’s known for — a consistently productive AHLer, Hunt recently made his fourth career All-Star Game on the strength of 29 points in 23 games for the Wolves.