Is Ouellet the Lightning's target?
The ability to sign unrestricted free agents begins at midnight and the most intriguing name out there for the Lightning is Penguins wing Michel Ouellet. Ouellet was not made a qualifying offer by the Penguins because of what he might have earned through arbitration, and it is believed Tampa Bay might try to snag the 19-goal scorer as part of its attempt to find a wing to play with Brad Richards. No one inside the Lightning is saying this, of course. Things are very hush, hush when it comes to specific names. But Ouellet makes sense. Tampa Bay has about $5-million left to spend under its self-imposed cap of $44-million cash. Ouellet made $500,000 last season and could probably be had for about $1-million or a little more. With Tampa Bay still looking for a low-level defenseman and still having to sign Ryan Craig, Paul Ranger and perhaps Eric Perrin and Nolan Pratt, Ouellet makes sense financially. He also has a good upside.
Chicago's Jeff Hamilton also might make sense. He had 18 goals last season on a terrible team. But Ouellet seems to have more of the intangibles. He is much better in front of the net and had 11 power-play goals. He also has made a concerted effort to improve his skating and two-way game. The scuttlebutt in Pittsburgh is he is good in the locker room and the coaches there love him.
It makes sense the Lightning will make a forward its priority in the free-agent period as it will be easier to find a low-level defenseman who can play at five, six or seven as training camp gets closer. The same applies to a fourth-line forward if Perrin goes elsewhere.
Don't expect the Lightning to make a last-ditch effort to keep Cory Sarich unless the bottom falls out of the free-agent market and that's not likely. Various reports predict Sarich could get as much as $2.5-million. If that is true, and given Tampa Bay's priority on a forward, that is way to expensive. Can anyone say Matt Smaby?
Anyway, a lot of other names the Lightning could target in Sunday's paper.