The offseason is here but here are five things to keep an eye on as the Lightning prepare for the 2014-15 season
1. Ben Bishop rehab
When the Lightning returned from Olympic break last season, something was not quite right about netminder Ben Bishop. Still a force in net, Bishop battled through an undisclosed injury and then succumbed to another ailment, a dislocated elbow, at the end of the season and through the playoffs. Then on locker clean out day Bishop announced he was going to undergo offseason surgery on a torn ligament in his right wrist, something that had been bothering him since February. He has since undergone the procedure at the Cleveland Clinic. Over the course of the summer Bishop will be working with the Bolts training staff to get back to the level that made him a 2014 Vezina Trophy finalist, as he vows to be back in net by the start of training camp.
2. The rest of the Lightning goaltenders
Despite goaltender Anders Lindback being an impending restricted free agent this summer, Tampa Bay is in good standing when it comes to their goaltending depth. Kristers Gudlevskis finished his first full year in North America in 2013-14 with solid numbers and all indications point to 2012 first-round draft pick of the Bolts, Andrei Vasilevskiy, following in his footsteps next season. Another Bolts' prospect, Adam Wilcox, helped the University of Minnesota reach the 2014 Frozen Four. The only question is, where will each factor in next season? While Bishop is expected to take on the starting duties once again, the Lightning must choose to either re-sign Lindback or look elsewhere for a veteran back-up. As for Gudlevskis and Vasilevskiy, expect them to go along with vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman’s theme of patience to produce successful results with the two of them starting the 2014-15 campaign with Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch. Also, don’t be surprised if Wilcox re-joins his college team for his junior year.
3. Ryan Callahan
Forward Ryan Callahan brought a gritty, do-what-ever-it-takes style of play to the Bolts that they were somewhat missing early in the year. It quickly made him one of head coach Jon Cooper’s favorites after being acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers for captain Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline. Cooper and Yzerman have both praised Callahan for not only his performance on the ice, but the character he brings to the locker room. It’s clear they would like to see him as part of the Lightning’s long-term plan, yet Callahan will become a free agent on July 1. Expect the Lightning to work hard to sign Callahan, who has already said he is open to consider a return to Tampa Bay.
4. Development Camp
For the past few years it has been Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and a handful of others, who have been in the spotlight as the players of the future, but now that they have made the jump to the National Hockey League, who’s next? Blueliners Dylan Blujus, Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek are considered some of the top defensemen in the Lightning system, while Brett Connolly, Jonathan Drouin, Vladislav Namestnikov ,as well as newly signed 2013 draft picks Adam Erne and Henri Ikonen round out the list of notable forwards. All are expected to be at this year’s development camp held at the beginning of July.
5. Draft/Free Agency
The Martin St. Louis trade also brought a conditional second-round draft pick to the Lightning in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft that becomes a first-round pick if the New York Rangers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals this year. That could mean two first-round picks in the next two drafts, as the Bolts additionally received a first-round pick in 2015. The draft will be held in Philadelphia on June 27-28. A few days later on July 1, free agency begins and all unrestricted free agents (UFAs) hit the market and become available to be signed by any team. Besides Callahan, other Bolts’ UFAs include Michael Kostka, Tom Pyatt and Sami Salo. The Lightning also have a number of restricted free agents (RFAs), such as J.T. Brown, Johnson, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat, whose negotiating rights belong to Tampa Bay right now. Once free agency begins, any team can sign one of these RFAs, giving the Bolts seven days to match the offer. If matched, the Bolts retain that player at the agreed contract. If the Lightning does not match the offer, the player goes to the team that he signed the offer sheet with, while the Bolts receive compensation in the form of draft picks.