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Top Offseason Stories to Watch: Unrestricted Free Agents

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has some pretty important decisions to make regarding the team’s unrestricted free agents.

And perhaps even more significant than the decisions themselves, are the consequences that go along with them.

Each individual contract he structures has a tendency to impact all the others, so when it comes down to determining who stays and who goes, he’ll essentially be playing a numbers game more so than just merely playing favorites.

Among the more notable contracts set to expire on July 1 are those belonging to forwards Adam Hall, JT Wyman and Tim Wallace, defensemen Brett Clark, Mike Commodore and Bruno Gervais, and goaltender Dwayne Roloson.

Some even present a certain degree of intrigue for what each brings to the table.

Hall was the Lightning’s best faceoff man last season, winning 59.5 percent of his draws to finish first on the team among those with at least 400 faceoffs taken. His production came relatively cheap too, as his cap hit last season was approximately $600,000.

Rounding out the trio of forwards with unrestricted status are also Wyman and Wallace, who each excelled in a checking role last season, and who are known for their ability to battle for pucks, kill penalties, fight through picks and checks, and use their speed to cut through traffic.

“They’re relentless,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “They’re reliable and they’ll do whatever you ask them to do. And if you ask for more, they’ll give you more.”

Adam Hall is among unrestricted free agents with contracts set to expire on July 1 (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

The bigger issue, though, lies on the blue line, an area for which Yzerman has publicly stated his desire to become faster, bigger and younger. Clark and Commodore, however, while possessing a physical style of play, are set to turn 36 and 33, respectively, this season. Roloson, meanwhile, will be 43 in October.

Yzerman also must remain cognizant of potential free agents for whom he might want to bid. Still in need of one more top-six forward, New Jersey Devils winger Zach Parise is certainly an attractive target, as is Alexander Semin, but neither would come without a hefty price tag. The same can also be said for Nashville’s Ryan Suter, who undoubtedly would serve as a nice addition to a Lightning blue line still seeking one or two more top-four defensemen.

So, what can and can’t be done, in terms of who to add and who to let walk?

That’s what Yzerman is currently trying to figure out, but given the potential costs involved and the so-called domino effect each contract has on the others, it would make sense to start with the players who are expected to command the most money.

There is also this to consider: Tampa Bay’s salary cap hit this past season was approximately $60 million, while mid-summer projections, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle, have the upcoming year’s league cap forecasted to be as high as about $70 million, up from $64 million in 2011-12.

While all of that will constitute the majority of the so-called heavy lifting, Yzerman, along with assistant general manager Julien BriseBois, will nevertheless have added work to do as he renders decisions on a number of the team’s prospects, including Mike Angelidis, Trevor Smith, Brandon Segal, Scott Jackson and Mike Kostka.

Whatever the numbers may be, it is sure to be a busy upcoming few weeks, and one definitely worth keeping an eye on.

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