The Tampa Bay Lightning being swept out of the opening round of the 2014 NHL playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens was a sour end to a surprisingly successful season. Projected by many to miss the playoffs when this season began, the Lightning overcame a serious injury to superstar Steven Stamkos and dealing away Martin St-Louis at the March trade deadline to finish third overall in the Eastern Conference.
They tied their franchise record for wins (46) while their 101 points was third-highest in team history. Goaltender Ben Bishop (sidelined from the opening round with a dislocated left elbow) is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Two of their rookies, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, are finalists for the Calder Trophy. Defenseman Victor Hedman finally emerged as a top-two defenseman, reaching a career high in points with 55. Stamkos, now the franchise player, is only 24 and yet to reach his prime. Given their depth in promising youth, the Lightning have a bright future.
Still, they enter the off-season with several roster issues to address. Topping the list is pending free agent Ryan Callahan, acquired from the New York Rangers in the Martin St-Louis trade. The Tampa Tribune's Erik Erlendsson reports Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and coach Jon Cooper wants to bring Callahan back. Contract talks should start in the near future.
Re-signing Callahan depends upon his asking price. Rumor has it Callahan sought a lengthy deal worth upwards of $6.25 million per season with a no-trade clause from the Rangers before they shipped him to Tampa. Yzerman will undoubtedly try to ink him to a more affordable deal, but if Callahan remains inflexible the Lightning could let him walk.
With youngsters like Palat, Johnson, Alex Killorn, J.T. Brown, and Mark Barberio becoming restricted free agents this summer, plus Bishop being eligible for UFA status next summer, Yzerman can't afford to tie up too much money into a veteran two-way winger with an injury history.
Yzerman must also ensure sufficient cap space to bolster his defensive depth, exposed as a weakness in the series against the Canadiens. Erlendsson claims the Lightning were linked to Vancouver's Alex Edler and Phoenix's Keith Yandle in the past.
Of the pair, Yandle could be the easiest to land. He lacks a no-trade clause and has two years remaining on his contract at an annual cap hit of $5.25 million. Edler has a full no-trade clause with five more seasons on his contract worth $5 million per. If Yzerman pursues either guy, the Coyotes and Canucks will want one of the Lightning's good young scoring forwards as part of the return.
The backup goaltender role must also be addressed. Anders Lindback is a restricted free agent who struggled in the series against the Habs. Yzerman could elevate promising Kristers Gudlevskis into the backup role and shop Lindback separately or in a package deal for blueline depth.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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