Despite experiencing one of the worst playoff collapses in NHL history, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still going to be seen as the team to beat for the 2019-20 season. This is understandable as they are a franchise chock full of talent and depth, even if they stand pat throughout free-agency.
However, this doesn’t mean that Tampa Bay will be quiet in free agency. Even if they have a solid lineup, there are always areas that can be improved upon, or will they take a risk on a player who may have struggled elsewhere in the league?
So, who could be the Lightning’s top free-agent targets should they decide to add to their already impressive lineup?
It should come as no surprise that the Lightning are interested in Joe Pavelski. He is the sort of player that leaves it all on the ice and has that veteran upside that would make just about any team better.
Given that they recently lost Ryan Callahan, their heart-and-soul locker room leader, a player with Pavelski’s leadership and veteran experience could be an invaluable addition to the roster.
Besides this, putting Pavelski on a line alongside Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov could produce some of the best scoring totals of his career. Given that Pavelski posted 38 goals and 64 points in 2018-19, there’s reason to believe that he could improve upon those impressive totals.
The big holdup to this idea is the price tag. Pavelski’s services won’t come cheap, and the Lightning are a bit tight on capital right now. So, unless if he is willing to take a discount, don’t expect a deal to get done.
This doesn’t mean that a deal is impossible, however. If the Lightning can convince Pavelski that Tampa Bay is his best chance to win a championship, then a deal could be worked out.
Lightning Need a Third Goalie
Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Lightning can feel confident in their NHL goaltending situation. Between Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy and backup Louis Domingue, the franchise has a fantastic starter along with a backup who can fill in when needed.
Behind those two, though, the Lightning are a bit of a mess. With Edward Pasquale heading to the KHL and Connor Ingram getting dealt to the Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay has no starter for their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
This means that the Lightning have to bring in at least one goaltender who can be a starter in Syracuse as well as fill in as a backup should an injury occur.
The good news for Tampa Bay is that there are a few goaltenders on the market who can fill this role. Depending on the situation, former starters like Cam Talbot, Eddie Lack or Keith Kincaid may be available to play the third goaltender role if no team offers them a backup job.
If those bigger names go off the market, there are a few other options for the Lightning that, while maybe not ideal, could be a decent stopgap for the next year or two. Players like Andrew Hammond or former Bolts prospects like Adam Wilcox or Dustin Tokarski could look to restart their careers in Syracuse.
If the Lightning are looking to take a low-risk, high-reward gamble this offseason, no player fits that description better than Ryan Hartman. Despite being a first-round selection at the 2013 draft, Hartman has been unable to establish himself in a full-time NHL role.
This means that Hartman could potentially be available as a relatively cheap depth forward for the Lightning who could bloom with the franchise in a bottom-six role. He does, after all, fit Tampa Bay’s mold of a smaller forward who holds untapped scoring talent.
If Hartman doesn’t work with the Lightning, then they could always send him to play in Syracuse to give a veteran presence to their AHL affiliate. If things go well, then he could be that perfect bottom-pairing forward to fill out the lineup.
Smart Signing Could Reshape Lightning
For the Lightning, making the right choices in free-agency this offseason could set the team up for continued success over the next few seasons. If the team overpays for a veteran player, it would cost them cap space needed to sign a young player next offseason.
Related: 2019 Draft a Big Win for Lightning
That being said, the team could use some retooling after their playoff collapse. By adding a veteran like Pavelski or a low-risk forward like Hartman (or both), the Lightning could find that final piece to get them over the playoff hump.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.