Tampa Bay Lightning: The Defense Doesn't Rest This Offseason

Bob FoxContributor IJuly 6, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: Steve Yzerman of teh Tampa Bay Lightning works the draft floor during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

General manager Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been a busy man since free agency started on July 1st, adding pieces the puzzle (especially defensively), as the Bolts hope to rebound and become Stanley Cup contenders in the 2012-2013 NHL season.

This was after the Bolts added some more talent in the 2012 NHL draft (June 22-23), plus traded to get their possible goaltender of the future a week before the draft.

First, Yzerman re-signed defenseman Evan Oberg to a one-year, two-way contract on July 1st. Oberg is only 24, and had a plus-2 rating in three games with the Bolts and also had a plus-15 rating in 42 games with the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL, where he had seven goals and 23 points as well.

The Bolts also signed 19-year-old defenseman Artem Sergeev to a three-year entry level contract.

Then, Yzeman took care of forward Benoit Pouliot (one-year, one-way contract) worth $1.8 million. Yzerman acquired Pouliot from the Boston Bruins in exchange for forward Michel Ouellet and their fifth-round selection from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft on June 23.

Pouliot, who is 25, had 16 goals and 16 assists for the Bruins last year. Pouliot is a former first-round pick, as he was the fourth overall selection in the 2005 NHL draft by the Minnesota Wild.

After those agreements, Yzerman decided to bring in some bona fide NHL talent via free agency to help his defense.

First, Yzerman signed defenseman Sami Salo, formerly of the Vancouver Canucks, to a two-year deal worth $3.75 million a year. Salo is a solid defenseman, who also has one of the hardest slap shots in the NHL (over 100 mph). Salo would be a nice addition to the power play.

Yzerman likes what he has seen from Salo.

"He is a good, solid player, a real pro, a high-character person," Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times. "He'll be a good leader for our team."

Salo has had some injury issues in the recent past, but Yzerman is not too concerned.

"None of these injuries are really joint related or degenerative things that may limit a player's career," Yzerman said. "He's just banged up and missed games because of things. To the best of my knowledge, he's in good shape."

Salo is not concerned either.

"I'm feeling great," Salo told the Tampa Bay Times, who in 69 games last season with the Canucks had nine goals, seven power-play goals, 25 points and was plus-7 with an average 20:26 of ice time.

"Last year was probably my healthiest in a long time. I hate when everybody talks about the injuries. A lot of things have gone with bad luck."

Yzerman's biggest signing occurred on July 4th. It caused quite a bang in the NHL too, when the Bolts inked Matt Carle to a six-year deal for $33 million.

This will be Carle's second stint with the team, as he was originally dealt to the Bolts in the infamous Dan Boyle trade in 2008, when the Lightning ownership group was headed by Oren Koules and Len Barrie.

The Bolts soon traded Carle (played 12 games with the Bolts) to the Philadelphia Flyers for for Steve Downie, Steve Eminger and a fourth-round pick.

Carle is excited about his second go-round with the Lightning.

"I'm really excited, the organization has done a complete 180-degree since I was there the last time and it starts at the top with ownership and management with Steve Yzerman,'' the 27-year-old Carle told Tampa Bay Online. "It seems like they have pretty much the same core with a lot of new pieces and I can't wait to be a part of it for the next six years.''

Carle has developed into one of the top defensemen in the NHL since he was last with the Bolts. Carle has 15 goals and 122 assists while averaging more than 21 minutes per game each of the past four seasons, while also playing solid defense.

"I feel I can play a solid two-way style of game that can move the puck, and with the forwards in the top six they have, it's pretty exciting to think about getting the puck into their hands,'' Carle said. "And I like to jump into the play when the time is right, so I hope I can contribute.''

Carle is also an option on the power play, as he had three goals and 12 points on that unit.

Yzeman was very pleased to add someone of Carle's ability to the team.

"We're pretty excited," Lightning general manager Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times. "He's a top-four defenseman that plays in all situations. He skates well. He moves the puck well. He's been very durable, so we think he's a much-needed player into our defensive group."

So...is Yzerman done in free agency?

"To sign a free agent, we have to believe they are significantly better than some of our young players," Yzerman said. "We'll see what comes available, but we feel like we're not under pressure to do anything because we like the guys who played in (AHL) Norfolk last year."

Bottom line, no matter what happens next, the Lightning have added two top-four defensemen to go along with Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer.

If newly acquired goalie Anders Lindback plays effectively next season, and the defense performs as expected with the new additions, the Bolts should be a definite contender in the Eastern Conference in 2012-2013, especially with all the talent on their lines.

I'll bet that Vincent Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos are pretty stoked about the new additions too.

The Bolts can score (ranked third in the Eastern Conference) and now it looks like they can defend as well. The icing on the cake was also perhaps helping out the power play, which was abysmal last year (ranked 13th in the Eastern Conference).