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Lightning can build off Mathieu Garon’s strong play down the stretch, but still seek improvement in goal

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

The so-called offseason is shaping up to be just the opposite for Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman.

Even with his team out of this year’s playoffs, there is no shortage of work to be done this summer, specifically as he begins the search for a bona fide starting goaltender.

Tampa Bay finished the regular campaign with a league-worst 278 goals-against this past season, yielding an average of 3.39 goals per game, and finished last in the 30-team league in team goals-against average and save percentage.

For the Lightning, which hopes to make a strong return back to the postseason next spring after falling just one game short of the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago, it is an area that the team needs to shore up for both the short term and the long term.

“Obviously our goal coming into this past year was to make the playoffs, and that will be our goal again next season,” Yzerman said. “You can look at the statistics and pinpoint the areas we need to improve in, so we’ll take a couple of weeks to consider our options and then make some plans at that time.”

As a result of a series of trades made in both the days and subsequent hours leading up to the this past season’s NHL trade deadline, Yzerman certainly put himself in a favorable position to make just about any move, stockpiling draft picks and thus creating flexibility to get a deal in the works.

Until that happens, however, the Lightning will rally behind Mathieu Garon, who had solid numbers down the stretch that in part fueled the Bolts’ late playoff push this past spring.

Garon had put together a four-game winning streak, and had won six of his past seven, prior to sustaining a torn groin muscle that sidelined him for the final month of the season. Before his season ended on Mar. 6, he had posted a 12-3-2 record that dated back to Jan. 17.

It is something which gives the Bolts a foundation to build around as they look ahead to the upcoming campaign, but Garon’s contract is set to expire at the end of the 2012-13 season, and as far as which goaltenders might be viable options to acquire this summer, there is a shortlist of names that are few and far between.

Up until a few weeks ago, Vancouver’s Cory Schneider appeared to be the most sought after of the pending free agent net minders, however his strong showing in each of the three games he played for the Canucks during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs makes it seem as if he isn’t going anywhere.

Rather, Roberto Luongo was to submit a list of teams to which he would be willing to go, that according to Canada’s Sportsnet, included the Lightning, but there is one caveat. Luongo still has 10 years remaining on a $64 million contract that pays over $6 million over the next six years.

There is also Los Angeles Kings backup Jonathan Bernier, Nashville Predators backup Anders Lindback and the Minnesota Wild’s Josh Harding, although each, for the most part, are unproven at the NHL level.

Most recently, Tim Thomas’ name has come up, and although he has just one year left on his contract at about $3 million, which is not a big commitment in terms of dollars or years, he is 38 years old and wouldn’t fulfill a long-term need.

That said, it appears that Yzerman has a lot more options with which to work this summer than just draft picks.

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