5 Free Agents Who Should Be on Tampa Bay Lightning's Wish List
The Tampa Bay Lightning head into the 2014 offseason with far fewer needs to address than a year ago. The improvements brought the team back to the playoffs, but some additions will need to be made to continue to make playoff runs in the near future. On July 1, the craziness of free agency kicks off with the Lightning possibly making some noise.
Tampa Bay has two first-round picks in the 2014 and 2015 NHL draft thanks to the New York Rangers making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. That provides the Lightning with a lot of flexibility heading into free agency.
The Bolts could use some improvement on defense, add a little grit in front of the net and a veteran backup goaltender, which should put these free agents on their wish list.
Brooks Orpik has made a name for himself throughout the hockey world for his big hits and steady play. He has spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, but that will probably be coming to a close.
If healthy, he will garner a ton of attention around the league. Tampa Bay needs to make this play. Imagine Radko Gudas on one pair and Orpik on another to flatten the opponent's forwards.
At 33, Orpik still logged over 20 minutes per game. He just finished up his deal worth $3.75 million annually. That's a nice price for his services, especially if he is healthy.
Orpik is worth the look from Tampa Bay.
The Lightning have some important forwards who will be heading to free agency. The Bolts have 15 players under contract for next season, but names like Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan aren't locked up.
Each name listed above will be a priority for the Lightning, but Callahan is the only unrestricted free agent in the group. For those looking for closure on the subject, there won't be any for a while. There is mutual interest, but at what cost?
Would the Lightning be willing to risk not signing some of the young top-tier talent for Callahan's big deal? The Bolts should have Callahan on their wish list, but not as an all-or-nothing signing.
Nikita Nikitin ended his two-year deal with Columbus this season. It wasn't the most impressive deal for either side, and now it's negotiating time again. Fast forward a couple seasons and he is still a question mark for Columbus.
Nikitin had 15 points in 66 games for Columbus last season, but his plus-nine rating could draw more attention. The 27-year-old defenseman could be another solid puck-moving blueliner for the Bolts. The opportunity to jump into the play under coach Jon Cooper might up his production as well.
Good size at 6'3" and nearly 220 pounds makes Nikitin an interesting player to watch this offseason.
Tampa Bay will need a mix of stay-at-home defensemen and offensive-minded defensemen. Veteran blueliner Sami Salo may not return to Tampa Bay, which opens up an opportunity outside. Clayton Stoner from Minnesota could be one of those targets.
Stoner is 6'3" and nearly 215 pounds. He's sturdy and can play either defensive position. That versatility could help on a lower defensive pair.
He has never been much of a producer or even a shooter, but his physical game is a big bonus. He had 99 hits last season in just over 13 minutes on ice per game.
Stoner should be towards the bottom of the wish list, but he might be a nice addition to add defensive depth.
Hypothetically speaking, let's say a team has a clear-cut No. 1 goaltender and a wealth of young goaltending prospects who are only a year or two away from making NHL debuts. Let's say the No. 1 goaltender had injury issues in his first full season but was the team's most valuable player.
Let's also say that the young goaltenders could use a crafty veteran goalie to expedite the learning process. How on Earth would that situation possibly take shape? Well, the Lightning are in that situation and they could land a huge name this offseason.
Martin Brodeur began his NHL career in 1991. He has more wins and NHL records than should be humanly possible. He has been in the NHL since before some of the Lightning were born.
Even as a backup last season, he had a 2.51 goals-against average and went 19-14-6 in 39 starts. He is only temporary, but the knowledge, playoff experience and leadership Brodeur would bring to the locker room makes him worth a look.
If he throws in another 15 or 20 wins in relief of Ben Bishop, the Lightning just stole the show.