Sunday, February 25, 2018
Sports

For GM Yzerman, a crucial summer season

For Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, this summer promises to be a complicated one. Not to mention critical to the future of his franchise. Here's a look at his biggest decisions:

Signing Stamkos

Steven Stamkos, 26, wants to stay with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2008. But there's a reason his contract situation has dragged out this long, even with, Canada's Sportsnet reported, the Lightning offering Stamkos an eight-year deal worth $8.5 million annually. Stamkos could likely get more in free agency, but the Lightning can ill afford to go much higher because of the cap. Yzerman said he can't force Stamkos into signing, and with the center holding a full no-move clause, the GM can't trade his rights without his permission.

Stamkos insists he's not feeling pressure from the Players Association to strike a huge deal, nor has he thought about free agency.

Who's No. 1?

Yzerman said his team is in a "fantastic situation" with two elite goalies in Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. There's Bishop, 29, a two-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league's top netminder. And there's Vasilevskiy, 21, who showed why he's a future No. 1 in his four 30-plus-save performances after Bishop was hurt in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

"Is (Vasilevskiy) going to be a No. 1 starting goaltender in this league? I don't have a doubt in my mind," coach Jon Cooper said. "The ceiling is limitless."

The Lightning may explore a long-term deal with Bishop, especially if Stamkos isn't re-signed and there's salary-cap space. But the Lightning could also save money by trading Bishop, who is making $5.95 million, and net a hefty return while turning over the reins to Vasilevskiy, who makes $925,000. With a potential expansion draft next year, Yzerman could lose one of those goalies anyway. He knows he'll eventually have to make a decision but didn't rule out Bishop and Vasilevskiy starting next season as a tandem.

The cornerstones

Signing forward Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Victor Hedman appear to be locks. It's just a matter of for how much.

Kucherov, a dynamic scorer, racked up 59 goals the past two seasons and shined in the playoffs with 21 combined goals.

"He's an important part of our future," Yzerman said. "I love everything about him."

But it'll cost the Lightning. Kucherov's $700,000 salary could rise by around $5 million, depending on the contract term. And Hedman, a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman, will get a significant boost from his $4 million cap hit.

"Start it with a 9 (million)," NHL Network analyst Craig Button, a former GM, said of a Hedman deal. "Hedman is a stud. If (Canadiens defenseman) P.K. Subban is making $9 million … Hedman is an irreplaceable player."

Hedman's agent, Peter Wallen, said his client is willing to wait until Yzerman sorts out his other contracts.

"We're going to be patient," Wallen said. "It's a big puzzle for (Yzerman) to put in place."

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