TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he planned to explore free agency for potential needs, which include bolstering his blue line and adding a wing or two.
And it sounds like Tampa Bay is kicking the tires on the biggest fish in the free agent market, veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
The Lightning is one of many teams that checked in with Shattenkirk on Sunday. The window for teams to court pending unrestricted free agents opened at midnight Saturday.
Shattenkirk, 28, is a puck-moving, right-shot, top-four defenseman who is more than capable of quarterbacking a power play. That would fit a need for Tampa Bay. But he won't come cheap. Shattenkirk, who made $4.25 million last season, will likely net a huge long-term deal in a small free agent market for defensemen. A number of teams are interested in him. And the Lightning, which just dug itself out of salary cap trouble, is wary of putting itself back into the same hole. Unless the return is worth it.
"We've done a lot here to give ourselves a little bit of flexibility," Yzerman said. "We don't want to put ourselves right back in the same position if we're not confident that it's really going to make a difference."
Shattenkirk had 13 goals and 43 assists last season, which was split between St. Louis and Washington, which acquired him at the trade deadline. The Lightning attempted to get Shattenkirk before the deadline, but Shattenkirk reportedly nixed a potential deal from St. Louis to Tampa in January.
Not sure what happened to thwart that trade, but it doesn't sound like that precludes Shattenkirk from having interest in signing with Tampa Bay this summer. Unrestricted free agents can begin signing with other teams Saturday.
Keep in mind, other free agent defensemen are available, including Karl Alzner and Cody Franson, and Tampa Bay could very well check in on them, too. It makes sense for the Lightning to figure out all its options.
And there's still a chance the Lightning addresses its blue line via trade, as it tried to over the weekend at the draft in Chicago. Tampa Bay was in on the Islanders' Travis Hamonic, who was acquired by Calgary. The Wild's Marco Scandella is still being shopped; he's a left-shot defenseman with a palatable $4 million annual cap hit the next three seasons.
Yzerman noted how tricky free agency is, that with the small group of players available, prices will be high. Though Tampa Bay has $23 million in cap space, around $10 million will likely go to re-signing potential restricted free agents Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. The Lightning also wants to retain potential unrestricted free agent forward Yanni Gourde.
BOYLE BACK? Yzerman also wants to find at least one more top-nine forward, preferably a wing.
Among the potential free agents available, veteran Justin Williams seems like a fit. Many are wondering about former Lightning center Brian Boyle, who was traded to Toronto at the March deadline.
Boyle, 32, said he'd be interested in returning to Tampa Bay, but it's unclear if the feeling is mutual. The Lightning wasn't among the early teams to reach out to him.
"We love Tampa," Boyle told the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday. "If Tampa wanted to work a deal out, that's definitely a huge option for us. That's something that I've kind of always thought about. I haven't closed the door on anything.
"But you want to be wanted. That's the other thing."
For more on Boyle, see tampabay.com/lightning.