Some tough expansion decisions loom for Lightning
The popular assumption is that the Lightning might lose center Vladislav Namestnikov to Vegas in the June expansion draft.
It makes sense. Tampa Bay has some tough decisions up front even if it goes with the seven forwards, three defensemen protection list. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin are locks, unless one of the restricted free agents (Johnson, Palat, or Drouin) is dealt before hand. Ryan Callahan must be protected due to his no-move clause, and there's not a sense - at least not yet - that he's been asked to waive it.
That would leave one spot left, theoretically for Alex Killorn, who was signed to a seven-year, $31 million deal last summer, when GM Steve Yzerman dubbed the power forward one of the team's "core" players. That means Namestnikov, 24, who has one year left on his deal, potentially left unprotected.
And the Namestnikov could be someone that would interest Vegas - he's a versatile forward who can play center or wing, from top line to fourth line, both special teams units. And he's relatively cheap, at $1.9375 million next season.
However, it remains to be seen whether Namestnikov will be available for Vegas. For what it's worth, Yzerman said they haven't decided on their protected list, which must be turned in by June 17.
"We're not there yet," Yzerman said.
Yzerman said they've got plenty of time, and are going to take it. A lot can change in the next month, with Vegas expected to be busy on the trade front leading up to the June 21 expansion draft and June 23-24 NHL Draft. The Golden Knights, who scouted the Lightning heavily down the stretch in the regular season, could make a deal with teams (in return for them not taking a certain unprotected player). Or they could take advantage of an exclusive interview window with unprotected RFAs and UFAs. And the Lightning could ask Callahan to waive his no-move clause to create another spot on the protected list.
Namestnikov, in an interview with Sport-express.ru, said he doesn't know what will happen.
"It will depend on many factors," Namestnikov said. "The NHL expansion draft is in two months. No one knows what might happen. Many players are to be re-signed. So it'll be difficult to make predictions."
Namestnikov is at the World Championships in Paris playing for Russia, and playing well, including scoring two goals the other day. He's on a line with Nikita Kucherov, who has said he likes playing with his fellow Russian. Namestnikov is coming off a down year, finding himself a healthy scratch at one point. But Namestnikov is far the only Lightning player who had disappointing moments - there's a reason the preseason Stanley Cup favorites missed the playoffs.
Personally, I think the Lightning's decision on who to protect on the blueline will be the most challenging. Beyond locks Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay should consider protecting rookie Jake Dotchin, a right-shot to stepped into the top pairing. You'd think at least one or more of the following will be left unprotected (Dotchin, Slater Koekkoek, Jason Garrison, Braydon Coburn).
It's a lot for Yzerman and the Lightning to think about. And they're taking their time.