Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman had hinted his offseason shopping was close to done if he wasn't able to move a salary from his glut of forwards.
But Yzerman pulled it off in a stunning Sunday night flurry, finalizing three trades in two hours to deal veteran forwards Nate Thompson, Teddy Purcell and B.J. Crombeen, giving Tampa Bay an opportunity to be a bigger player when free agency opens Tuesday.
With the moves, and the likely decision to put defenseman Mattias Ohlund on long-term injured reserve, the Lightning will have about $11 million in cap space, potentially targeting an elite free-agent defenseman and backup goalie.
"Just because we have cap space now and cash available, we're not going to act out of desperation," Yzerman said. "But certainly we're going to inquire and see if there's anything that makes us better."
First, the Lightning traded Purcell to the Oilers for center Sam Gagner, who was quickly flipped, along with Crombeen, to Arizona for a sixth-round draft pick in 2015. The Lightning had to retain one-third of Gagner's remaining salary ($1.6 million).
Then, at midnight, the Lightning completed a trade that sent Thompson, 29, an alternate captain, to the Ducks for fourth- and seventh-round picks next year.
"You have no idea how hard it is to move a contract right now," Yzerman said.
Purcell had a $4.5 million cap hit the next two seasons, and Crombeen was due $1.15 million next season. Thompson had a cap hit of $1.6 million in each of the next three years.
Purcell, 28, played five seasons for Tampa Bay after being acquired from the Kings in March 2010. He had a breakout year in 2011-12, with 24 goals and 41 assists, including a great playoff run. But Purcell has been a relative disappointment since. A very skilled offensive player, Purcell had 23 goals combined the past two seasons.
Thompson has been a key contributor the past five seasons, including as one of the team's best penalty killers.
Crombeen, 28, a fourth-line grinder and the Lightning's top fighter, had four goals and 14 assists in 99 games over two seasons in Tampa Bay.
Yzerman said Purcell, Thompson and Crombeen will likely be replaced internally. Their departures open up spots for Richard Panik, Brett Connolly and 2013 top draft pick Jonathan Drouin on next season's team.
"There's an opportunity for them to play now," Yzerman said.
The Lightning could add another forward in free agency or via trade; Yzerman said the Lightning will go with a 13- or 14-forward roster next season. It lost some grit in Thompson and Crombeen, so it could look at former Lightning grinder Dominic Moore, who can be a free agent Tuesday.
Things could get even crazier the next couple of days. With the added cap flexibility, Tampa Bay has put itself in a better position if it wants to get in the bidding for coveted potential free-agent defensemen Matt Niskanen, Anton Stralman and former Lightning standout Dan Boyle.
Yzerman said he has used the free-agent interview period since Wednesday to speak with potential free agents and has a good idea of who is interested and what the costs might be.
The Lightning already made a significant addition to its blue line Friday in acquiring Jason Garrison from the Canucks, along with the rights to Notre Dame forward Jeff Costello, for a seventh-round pick. But Tampa Bay could add another defenseman, especially a right-handed shot.
On the backup goaltender front, there are plenty of veterans available, including Martin Brodeur, Tomas Vokoun and Tim Thomas, and there are younger options, such as Chad Johnson. The Lightning didn't make a qualifying offer to Anders Lindback but hasn't ruled out him returning.
Tampa Bay is likely to announce today which of its remaining restricted free agents it will make offers to. That will give it an even better idea of how much money it has left.
Yzerman recognized the contributions of Purcell, who was partly a casualty of his contract.
"Very skilled player, he was a very good player for us," Yzerman said. "Love the guy, a popular teammate and a really good guy. I think everybody — players, coaches and management — are going to miss him."
Game changed: The Lightning's April 7 home game with the Canadiens, which had a conflict with the Women's Final Four at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, has been moved to Oct. 13.