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Lightning leaving hockey world wondering at NHL draft

BUFFALO, N.Y.

The Lightning doesn't have a top-five pick in this weekend's NHL draft, selecting 27th overall in tonight's first round, but few teams are inspiring as much intrigue around the First Niagara Center.

"Everyone is like, 'I wonder what Tampa is going to do?' " NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes and former Lightning goalie said.

Specifically, will the Lightning be able to sign captain Steven Stamkos? And will Tampa Bay trade goaltender Ben Bishop?

General manager Steve Yzerman cryptically left the door open for both Thursday.

Yzerman is hoping for clarity on Stamkos by midnight tonight, when other clubs can contact Stamkos, an unrestricted free agent July 1. But Yzerman indicated he has gotten some answers.

"We know where we're at," he said.

While no deal appears imminent, Yzerman said he hasn't ruled anything out in terms of a deal with Stamkos, even if he talks to other teams first.

"He's still the property of the Tampa Bay Lightning — until July 1," Yzerman said. "Anything is possible. No doors have been closed."

Yzerman also seems open to trading one of his goalies, knowing one will have to be left exposed in next year's expansion draft. Bishop is rumored to be one of the top targets for Calgary, which is looking for a No. 1 goalie and has the No. 6 overall pick tonight.

"If or when the time comes, if a deal makes sense, I'm prepared to do it," Yzerman said. "Not to wait for better because better might not come along. It's a little tricky with the goaltenders and things can change.

Yzerman said he has spoken with every team that could potentially need a goalie, but there's no guarantee a deal will get done. The only time crunch could be if a first-round pick tonight is involved.

"Everybody is kind of on the edge of their seats here," Bishop said this month. "I'm excited and a little bit nervous. You have all the feelings, all the emotions. I guess we'll have to see where it goes."

• • •

The first, and biggest, domino is Stamkos, whose decision will impact a lot of what the Lightning can do.

Starting at midnight tonight, other teams can court Stamkos in a five-day interview window. There will likely be many suitors, from the Sabres, who are hosting the draft, to the Maple Leafs and Red Wings, and each likely can offer more than Tampa Bay. Canucks general manager Jim Benning said Thursday on TSN Vancouver he would call Stamkos as soon as the window opens.

Yzerman still hopes he can sign Stamkos, but time is running out. Once Stamkos hits July 1, the Lightning loses one of its negotiating advantages — the team can no longer offer an eight-year deal, just seven like everyone else. The Lightning could sign Stamkos and trade him, letting another team lock him up for eight years. But Stamkos has a full no-move clause, so he's in complete control. And why would Stamkos agree to a trade now when he can talk with every team in 24 hours?

The Lightning has reportedly offered Stamkos an extension with an $8.5 million annual average and likely won't be able to go much higher with its cap crunch.

Stamkos has publicly maintained he wants to stay in Tampa Bay, to finish what he started. But is that enough?

• • •

Yzerman will have to make a decision eventually in net, with the Lightning unable to protect both Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy in next year's expansion draft when the new team in Las Vegas enters the league.

Judging from what the Ducks got for goalie Frederik Andersen, the Maple Leafs sending them a first-round pick this year (30th overall) and a second-rounder next season, the Lightning could get a strong package for Bishop. Flames GM Brad Treliving said he hopes to find a No. 1 goalie, with Bishop a likely target. Yzerman said earlier that "if you can figure out a way I can get a top-five pick, I'm all for it." Could the Flames' No. 6 pick be included in a deal?

"We're in a bunch of different markets on that, so we'll see how it goes," Treliving said. "We're looking at everything and balancing it. This is the time. You need a dance partner, that's how it works, and you'd like to get (the goalie situation) taken care of. That's sort of our preference right now."

Bishop has a partial no-move clause, so there's a list of teams he can be dealt to, and any club interested would probably want to know if they could sign the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist long term. As of Thursday night, teams had yet to get permission to talk with Bishop's camp on a potential contract, which would appear to be a prerequisite to a deal. The Blues' Brian Elliott and Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury could also be targets for Calgary.

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Tonight NHL draft, 7, First Niagara Center, Buffalo, N.Y. TV/radio: NBCSN; 970-AM

Lightning leaving hockey world wondering at NHL draft 06/23/16 [Last modified: Thursday, June 23, 2016 10:45pm]
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