Updated: Aug 9
By Michael Wax
For the second year in a row, the NHL's free agency period will not be on its normal ‘July 1st’. Instead, all 32 teams will have the opportunity to sign new players on July 13th. The Lightning roster has seen some big changes: Defenseman Ryan McDonagh has been shipped out, defenseman Philippe Myers has made his way to Tampa, and the statuses of forward Ondrej Palat and defenseman Jan Rutta are up in the air. With $5.9M in cap space, the Lightning have some room to make moves for the first time in what feels like years. With the help of Dom Luszczyszyn's player cards, we’re going to do some bargain hunting to try to find the best possible free agent targets for the Lightning. (NOTE: They do not need to sign all of these players, these are just suggestions).
Option 1: Haydn Fleury, D
Once a highly-touted defensive prospect, the former seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft has had an up-and-down NHL career. This past season, as an inaugural member of the Seattle Kraken, Fleury put up a modest season with four points in 36 games.
While Fleury hasn't lived up to the pedigree he once had, he has some great tools the Lightning could unlock.
Option 2: Brett Kulak, D
After losing a defenseman in Ryan McDonagh, the Lightning could use another one on the left side in the form of Brett Kulak. Kulak has had consecutive excellent seasons, a bounce-back in Vancouver followed by a strong season in Los Angeles.
While he doesn't have to be an offensive dynamo, his defensive skills will sorely help a team that lost their best defensive defenseman. Mikhail Sergachev took a good step at times last season, and looked very poor at others. Giving Sergachev a fall guy like Kulak to lean on and learn from would benefit the 23-year-old in the best way.
Option 3: Sam Steel, F
The Anaheim made some very strange decisions during the qualifying period, non-tendering forwards Sonny Milano and Sam Steel. While Milano will be out of the Lightning's price range, Steel might fit right in for the Bolts.
Steel is an extremely talented offensive player, with some problems in the defensive end. He's got a very solid shot (he's scored exactly six goals in all four NHL seasons), and a keen eye for playmaking, while not taking a ton of penalties. If he's put into Tampa's defensive system, and on a third line with Brandon Hagel and Ross Colton, he can thrive in his sheltered role.
Option 4: Ondrej Kase, F
Getting Kaše would be a nice pickup.
The 26-year-old is a very skilled player. He's a three-time 10+ goal scorer, and a one-time 20+ goal scorer. His defense, in a depth role, has always been solid, and he turned out to be a very solid penalty killer for the Leafs this year. The skill for Kaše has never been in question.
The question for Kaše has always been his health. Kaše missed 32 games this season, and has only played in 138 of a possible 290 (47.5%) of games. He's also dealt with a series of concussion issues in the past. While the Maple Leafs not giving Kaše a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent was a surprise, the Leafs' loss could be the Lightning's gain, if they feel comfortable with his health.
Option 5: Claude Giroux, F
You want to get crazy? Let's get crazy.
Claude Giroux is one of the most underrated playmakers in this generation. He's six goals away from 300, and 77 points away from 1000. Despite all of the accolades and accomplishments in his career, he's missing the biggest feather in his cap: the Stanley Cup.
Giroux had an opportunity to choose his destination via trade last year, and he chose the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline. Even with the Panthers' struggles during the playoffs, including their second-round sweep to the Lightning, Giroux performed fairly well (3 goals, 5 assists in 10 games). The veteran left-winger has another chance to choose, and the Lightning are a contender with cap space for a reasonable contract. All the chatter seems to point to Giroux going home to Ottawa, but a chance to win might lead him to sign a one-year deal with a contender, and that contender should be the Bolts.
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