by Jon Jordan on 07/08/11 at 11:00 AM ET
It’s been a full week since last I posted and I am pleased to report that four of those seven days were planned away time spent in South Florida doing whatever it is that resembles relaxation for the parents of young children. (I think I slept less than I normally do, in all honesty, but the kids had a nice little adventure and that’s what it’s all about.)
Now, these other three days in absentia I can chalk up to the joys of real estate transactions and I suppose a little patience on my end (and yours, perhaps) is in order, as we’re only in the very beginning stages of this endeavor.
Anyway, while I was sunning it up down Panther way, the new regime at the helm of the NHL’s residents in Sunrise were busy overhauling their roster for the upcoming season, hauling in a slew of players from the free agent waters and getting involved in their second significant trade of the off-season already as well. (They did not offer me a contract, for those wondering about my real intentions… I mean, what hockey writer – at any level – would plan a family vacation that started in the evening of the very first day of free agency without an ulterior motive?)
During my time in enemy territory, as the gracious host city saw its team spare no expense in attempting to improve their on-ice fortunes (or at least meet the salary cap floor, that is), back home here in Tampa, the Lightning were getting busy on plugging some holes in their roster too. Though the big story of the summer has yet to see its final chapter written, as in a new contract for superstar forward Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman and company have been involved in the NHL’s annual silly season sparingly, with a refreshing measure of sensibility, as compared to the overspending of so many. Sure, they met with representatives for former Bolt Brad Richards – it was a given that they’d at least inquire – but with the dollar number and term that he eventually signed for with the New York Rangers, that was every bit the pipe dream from the start as I’d pegged it to be. That aside, the small ripples the Lightning have made this summer have an aim at bigger splashes down the road, in terms of eventual impact, quality and, most of all, value.
Yzerman has said the team is likely done shopping, so we can now take a moment to look at the tweaking that’s gone on so far…
The acquisition of defenseman Bruno Gervais prior to free agency and the later addition of former Ranger blueliner Matt Gilroy put a lid on the Lightning career of Mike Lundin, whose assumed arbitration award apparently steered the Bolts away. With the team likely to once again carry eight defensemen regularly, Gervais adds to their big league depth, while Gilroy, who never quite caught up on Broadway, seems to fit head coach Guy Boucher’s system and has a tremendous upside that justifies a reasonable $1 million salary.
Mathieu Garon, late of the Columbus Blue Jackets, will back up Dwayne Roloson in goal next season, with Mike Smith now off to the Phoenix Coyotes. At a cap hit of $1.3 million, the Bolts saved a little scratch here with Smith earning $2 million per in the desert.
Last season, I called the signings of Sean Bergenheim and Dominic Moore the potential steals of the summer and in so many ways, they lived up to just that. This year, the Lightning may have already done just the same, reeling in former Ottawa Senator Ryan Shannon on a 1-year, $625,000 deal. Moore’s still around, inked through this season, but Bergenheim cashed in on a solid regular season and his tremendous playoff success to the tune of 4 years and $11 million from the Panthers. If Shannon can fill that Bergenheim role for Tampa Bay, this particular signing will give the Lightning one of the highest-value free agent deals two years running. (With Moore finishing up the two-year deal he signed last summer, it could be argued that they already have as much with a repeat performance from him. Production from Shannon, then, would be gravy.)
Further on down the impact ladder, Tampa Bay aided organizational depth and did its AHL affiliate in Norfolk well, reaching deals with the likes of forwards Tom Pyatt, Trevor Smith, J.T. Wyman and Michel Ouellet and defenseman Richard Petiot on two-way deals.
And while Smith’s late-season and playoff resurgence made for a great story, that $2 million ticket for a backup in net was out of the Lightning’s logical range, as was $1.15 million for d-man Randy Jones (Winnipeg) , $3.5 million per over two years for forward Simon Gagne (Los Angeles) and certainly the mega-deal Bergenheim got with Florida. Smith was a popular presence in the room and has the talent to be a number one – an opportunity he’ll get in Phoenix, Jones proved serviceable on the back end when healthy and Gagne’s penchant for the clutch showed in his brief Tampa tenure but in all four of these cases, it was wise for the Lightning to let them walk.
So, with a series of small successes, Yzerman and crew can forge forward with the only contract for which they will be judged when it’s all said and done. No disrespect to fellow RFA Teddy Purcell, who could rake in as much as $3 million should he get to arbitration (though both sides of this discussion appear optimistic that a deal will be negotiated ahead of any such hearing), but of course, we’re talking Stamkos here.
No sense adding to the relatively unfounded hysteria that has so many Lightning fans up on the ledge over this non-deal presently. The overwhelming odds still dictate that a new deal with Tampa Bay is in the cards for Stamkos. Offer sheets don’t appear to be forthcoming and any trade scenarios you might hear are still based in dream world, at best. The only legitimate concern I’d have, were I a fan, is just how much this deal will end up costing the Bolts and how cap-unfriendly it may be in the end. The longer this goes, we can only assume, the bigger the number as a bottom line. Could we go upwards of $8 million per year? That was my guess long ago. And if reports of a 5-year, $37 million dollar offer from Tampa Bay are accurate, that $7.5 million in annual salary is still a bit off.
Either way – and I think this is the last time I’ll bring this up – when Nicklas Backstrom re-upped for 10 years and $67 million in Washington a while back, that could have been used as a fair comparable to Stamkos as early as last summer. There’s no telling how reasonable it is to have expected this extension done a long time ago but at face value, it seems like the Lightning cost themselves some dollars and maybe some term, which is scary down the road, by waiting.
Still, rest easy, Tampa Bay fans. You continue to have every reason to believe your superstar of today and tomorrow will remain in Lightning colors for a long time.
But with his soon-to-be yet another long-term, high-dollar deal added to the list of many on this roster (with more to come in short order, remember), the same can’t possibly be said for every member of what’s assumed as the current and future core of the club.
Lightning prospect camp is up-and-running at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum but my schedule doesn’t appear to permit much coverage, unfortunately. If you’re into that sort of thing, my recommendation is to follow my former colleagues on The Bolts Beat, ESPN1040’s Mike Corcoran (@MikeCorcoranNHL and TampaBayLightning.com’s Mark Pukalo (@mpukalo), as they’ll be providing updates and links to articles throughout.
In the meantime, back to the abyss for me…
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