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.

Ekman-Larsson suffers lower-body injury vs. Sharks, will be re-evaluated today

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The Arizona Coyotes lost to the San Jose Sharks in preseason action Saturday. What will matter more is the status of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

According to reports, Ekman-Larsson suffered a lower-body injury during overtime and had to be helped off the ice.

“He will get re-evaluated tomorrow — lower body,” said head coach Rick Tocchet, per Arizona Sports. “See what happens tomorrow. I don’t think he will practice tomorrow.”

At 26 years of age, Ekman-Larsson is a huge piece of a rebuilding Coyotes team and, based on previous comments from general manager John Chayka, is expected to be heavily relied upon on the blue line this season.

It’s also expected that he will be named the new Coyotes captain, taking over the leadership role from Shane Doan.

Rangers’ Desjardins faces hearing for ‘dirty’ hit on Miles Wood

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Just hours after delivering a two-game preseason suspension to Tom Wilson, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued a statement on Twitter, this time saying Andrew Desjardins will have a hearing.

That hearing is scheduled to take place Monday. Desjardins received a match penalty for an illegal hit to the head of New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood during Saturday’s preseason game between the Devils and Rangers.

The incident occurred before the midway point of the first period.

Wood was slow to get back to his feet, but did eventually return to the game. The hit resulted in a melee in front of the Rangers net, with John Moore also getting called for roughing.

Devils hold open tryouts for emergency goalies

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Steven Porzio’s father was a New York Rangers fan, but he always rooted for the New Jersey Devils. A goaltender himself, Porzio was struck by Martin Brodeur, and he dreamed of replacing the NHL’s career wins leader when his days at the Prudential Center were done.

Porzio is now 27 years old and working in information technology, and he’s given up hope of replacing Brodeur.

He still might suit up for the Devils on their home rink, though.

Porzio and 14 others tried out Saturday to become the Devils’ emergency goaltender for this season. They were run through drills by former New Jersey goalie Scott Clemmensen at the Prudential Center, faced shots from players in the minor league system and even used a dressing room next door to the Devils’ home locker room.

Read more: Kings hope to find emergency goalie candidates with open tryouts

“You walk through the locker room area and see all the team photos, the little replica Stanley Cups,” Porzio said. “That gives you chills a little bit.”

This wasn’t exactly fantasy camp, though. Clemmensen pushed the prospective netminders – mostly former college or junior players – through rigorous tests to evaluate their skating and puckhandling.

“Put them through a legitimate goalie clinic today, which I don’t know if they were expecting,” said Sarah Baicker, the Devils’ director of content and communications, who helped coordinate the tryouts. “A couple guys looked like they’re going to sleep really well tonight.”

The tryouts are in response to a new league rule for this season, which mandates that teams have an emergency goalie present for all home games ready to fill in for either team. Last year, a number of clubs required backups on short notice, including when the Chicago Blackhawks called on Philadelphia-area youth hockey coach Eric Semborski for a game against the Flyers because Corey Crawford needed an emergency appendectomy.

New Jersey plans to pick a winner by the end of the week, and that goalie will need to be at all 41 Devils home games this season, plus the playoffs. New Jersey might pick more than one player to split up the schedule, though it hasn’t decided yet if the emergency goalies will be paid.

The 15 netminders at the rink Saturday were selected from a pool of nearly 400 applicants, some of whom were targeted by the team.

“The skill level was pretty good, and that’s what we’re looking for today,” said Clemmensen, now the goaltending development coach for the organization.

Among the final group was 43-year-old Anthony Felice, a hockey coach at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York, who has been an emergency backup for the Devils’ minor league teams in Lowell and Trenton. Injuries have slowed the former junior player, but he’s healthy enough now to seek “a chance to do it one more time.”

“To come out here and be in the big building was a lot of fun,” he said.

Not all the participants were Devils fans, either. Matt Palella, a 23-year-old who played at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, just moved to the area from Chicago for a job in Manhattan a few weeks ago. He got word of the tryout and put in his name, not sure what he’d get from the experience.

“I was expecting, `Go in the corner, figure it out,”‘ he said. Instead, he was surprised by how well New Jersey treated him and the others. “It was top-notch.”

Palella blew out his knee late in his college career, and this was just his second time skating since the injury.

“I’m not hurt,” he said. “That’s all I care about. Walking away in one piece.”

 

Jankowski ‘continues to impress’ at Flames camp

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Mark Jankowski made his Calgary Flames debut last season. It appears he’s making quite a case to at least start the new campaign in the National Hockey League.

On Friday, he notched his third goal of the preseason, helping the Flames to a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes. Make that three goals in three exhibition games for Jankowski, Calgary’s first-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft.

Once considered an “off-the-board” pick in that opening round, the 6-foot-4 center has developed into a very intriguing prospect, particularly after an impressive 2016-17 season down in Stockton, scoring 27 goals and 56 points in 64 AHL games. He appeared in one NHL game last season, and is leaving an impression during this year’s training camp, too.

Read more: Looking to make the leap — Mark Jankowski

“The confidence thing, right? These young players grow more confident as it goes,” head coach Glen Gulutzan said of the 23-year-old Jankowski following last night’s game.

“I thought he played well tonight. I thought he was better tonight than he was against Vancouver (on Wednesday) and he just continues to impress everybody.”

Calgary has three more preseason games remaining on their schedule, which could provide more of an opportunity for Jankowski to prove himself to the Flames coaching staff ahead of the regular season.

“I’m just trying to get better every day and keep on showing the coaching staff and management what I can bring to this team,” Jankowski told reporters.

“As camp goes on and it gets thinner and thinner, I just have to keep on doing that and get in some preseason games against almost full NHL lineups. That’s when you can really show your stuff, show you can play at this level and have an impact.”