NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The biggest question the Tampa Bay Lightning faced entering the offseason was if they would be able to re-sign captain Steven Stamkos before the free agent market opened July 1.
On June 29, the Lightning signed Stamkos to an eight-year, $68 million contract (average annual value of $8.5 million), which could keep him in Tampa Bay through the 2023-24 season.
The signing keeps the Lightning in the conversation as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Stamkos, who was selected by Tampa Bay with the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, scored 36 goals last season and has 312 in 569 games in his NHL career. He missed the first 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season after having surgery to remove a blood clot near his right collarbone. He returned for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"This team is on the verge of hopefully competing for Stanley Cups for years to come," Stamkos said after re-signing. "I felt in my heart that Tampa was always the place I wanted to stay. It was just following my heart and being loyal to the organization that brought me up."
With Stamkos signed, general manager Steve Yzerman was able to address other contract situations.
On July 1, Tampa Bay signed top defenseman Victor Hedman to an eight-year, $63 million contract extension (AAV of $7.875 million), which prevented him from becoming an unrestricted free agent after this season. On July 17, the Lightning signed forward Alex Killorn to a seven-year, $31.15 million contract (AAV of $4.45 million), avoiding arbitration.
"I like the group we have," Yzerman said. "Obviously, we need to get better to win a Stanley Cup, and that's our goal. We still have a lot of work to do."
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract extension (AAV of $3.5 million) on July 1, paving the way for the 22-year-old to eventually replace Ben Bishop as the No. 1 goaltender. Vasilevskiy started the final six games of the conference final after Bishop was injured.
During the regular season, Vasilevskiy was 11-10-0 with a 2.76 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. He had a .925 save percentage in the playoffs.
Bishop is entering the final year of his contract, and there will be more trade questions surrounding him this season after Yzerman did not move him at the draft. Though he is expected to open the season as Tampa Bay's No. 1 goalie, fans should see more of a time-share between Bishop and Vasilevskiy.
For his part, Bishop has said he does not want to be traded.
"You look at Montreal [Canadiens] when Carey Price went down," Bishop said. "They struggled to replace him. I think you need two goalies that give you a chance to win every night."
Forward Jonathan Drouin doesn't want to be traded either; that's a major turnaround from last season, a tumultuous one for the No. 3 pick of the 2013 draft. Drouin dealt with injuries, a demotion to Syracuse of the American Hockey League, a public trade request and an eventual suspension for failing to report to an AHL game.
But Drouin returned to Syracuse in March and was called up by the Lightning during the final week of the regular season after Stamkos' blood clot was discovered. Drouin scored a goal in his first game back with Tampa Bay, on April 4, and rode that positive momentum into the playoffs, when he had five goals and nine assists in 17 games, including the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the second round against the New York Islanders.
Drouin, 21, will get every opportunity to be the setup man for Stamkos -- and that's exactly what the Lightning were hoping he would be when they drafted him. Drouin has 42 points (eight goals, 34 assists) in 91 NHL regular-season games over two seasons.
The "Triplets" line of Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson remains intact. Kucherov, a resticted free agent who remains unsigned, scored 30 goals for the first time in his NHL career and led the Lightning with 66 points last season.
Much of the Lightning's roster has been unchanged through the past three years, but some players will be left exposed in the NHL expansion draft next June.
"Between now and the start of 2017-18, if we're going to sign all the players, we're going to have to make some changes," Yzerman said in July. "To what extent I'm not sure, but we're not going to be able to simply sign every guy and keep the exact same group together. It's not possible."