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Season Recap

Lightning core can keep them in contention

But Tampa Bay facing eventful offseason, led by Stamkos status

by Corey Long / Correspondent

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning packed up their things and prepared for the offseason less than 24 hours after losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.

It will be an eventful offseason for the Lightning, whose captain, Steven Stamkos, can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

General manager Steve Yzerman said the NHL salary cap will force the Lightning to make tough decisions this offseason and into next offseason.

"The next few years is going to define the core of our team," Yzerman said. "We have an idea of what we want to do, and we're going to do our best to get everyone to buy into what we're trying to do and keep it together."

The Lightning went 19-6-0 in January and February and finished 46-31-5, in second place in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay defeated the Detroit Red Wings and New York Islanders in the playoffs before losing to the Penguins.

WHAT THEY SAID: "I like the group that we have. 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." -- Yzerman

THE BURNING QUESTION: Will the Lightning and captain Steven Stamkos come to terms on a new contract? Each side said it wants to, but they've been saying that since before this season began. Stamkos' contract -- or departure -- could affect the future salaries of forward Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Victor Hedman, among others.

INJURIES: No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop said he had strained tendons in his left ankle and shin. Yzerman said he would not know of any players needing surgery until they took their physicals in the next day or two.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm1: Bishop exits with injury in the 1st

WHO COULD GO: Stamkos is the only unrestricted free agent. Forwards Kucherov, J.T Brown, Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette, and defenseman Nikita Nesterov are restricted free agents.

WHO COULD ARRIVE: A defenseman with a right-handed shot and scoring depth at forward (especially if Stamkos does not sign).

2016 DRAFT PICKS: The Lightning have nine picks in the 2016 NHL Draft: one in each of the seven rounds, with an extra pick in the second round (from the Boston Bruins) and in the seventh round (from the Dallas Stars).

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: In 2015, the Lightning were two wins from the Stanley Cup, and in 2016 they were five wins away, so they are championship caliber. Kucherov looks like a future star in the NHL, and 21-year-old goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy looks like he'll be a No. 1 in the NHL in due time. Defenseman Victor Hedman is likely to get a contract extension this offseason, and forward Jonathan Drouin has a bright future after a strong performance in the playoffs.

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