PHILADELPHIA — Free agency doesn't begin until Tuesday, but the Lightning has already done most of its major shopping.
It fulfilled one of its main priorities by re-signing veteran wing Ryan Callahan to a six-year deal last week. It satisfied its biggest immediate need by acquiring top-four defenseman Jason Garrison from the Canucks on Friday. And it has locked up most of its restricted free agents, including signing Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) finalists Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat to identical three-year, $10 million deals.
But general manager Steve Yzerman still has work to do. He said he's pretty much set at forward and defense but has to find a backup goalie. Considering the Lightning finished third in the Eastern Conference and made the playoffs last season, Yzerman doesn't believe he needs to make "wholesale changes" to the roster. And with the Lightning being just $5 million under the $69 million salary cap, there's not much room to get players in free agency, unless Yzerman moves someone from the surplus of forwards.
"We'd still like to explore a couple things. We've got a lot of forwards," he said. "But if I'm not able to move players or move money, it's going to be hard to do anything more."
What Lightning has done
. Brought back Callahan on a six-year, $34.8 million deal. That's a key move, with Yzerman saying his grit and two-way style fill a need. Callahan, who had six goals and five assists in 20 games with Tampa Bay after coming over in March from the Rangers in the Marty St. Louis trade, brings a valuable presence to a young room, helping captain Steven Stamkos.
"You can never have enough leadership, and he's got some moxie," coach Jon Cooper said. "He was a captain of a big-market team (Rangers), is not afraid of the spotlight, and you've got to have guys in your locker room that can carry the load. He's a good fit."
. Acquired Garrison, along with rights to forward Jeff Costello and a seventh-round draft pick from Vancouver for a second-round pick this year. That solidifies the defense. Garrison, 29, can log heavy minutes (averaged 20:53 last season), be a key cog on the penalty kill and add a potent shot from the point that has been lacking on the power play. It takes some of the load off veterans Eric Brewer and Matt Carle, and rookie Radko Gudas. Though Garrison shoots left, he can also play the right side, something the Lightning could use. Plus, Garrison is under team control through 2017-18 with a favorable front-loaded contract ($4.6 million cap hit annually, though his final-year salary drops to $2.5 million).
"Garrison is somebody that was definitely much needed," Cooper said.
. Bought out veteran wing Ryan Malone. That was a logical and expected move, saving a $4.5 million cap hit. Even without Malone's legal issues (he faces charges of DUI and cocaine possession stemming from an April arrest), cutting ties made sense because his role diminished last season, to the point he was a healthy scratch. With a glut of young forwards, there was no room for him.
. Locked up some restricted free agents. Besides Johnson and Palat, Tampa Bay has signed left wing Alex Killorn (two years, $5.1 million) and defenseman Mark Barberio (one year).
. Find a backup goalie. The Lightning decided not to give a qualifying offer to Anders Lindback, though it has kept the door open for him to return.
Lindback (8-12, 2.90 goals-against average, .891 save percentage last season) was inconsistent over two years in Tampa Bay, and Yzerman wanted to see what other veteran free agents were available before committing. Yzerman said he has a "short list" of goalies who interest him. Expect him to find a goalie when free agency starts. Big-name — and older — options are Martin Brodeur, Tomas Vokoun and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. But Tampa Bay might be better off with a younger option, such as the Bruins' Chad Johnson, who had a .926 save percentage last year behind Tuukka Rask and has never had a cap hit over $660,000.
"Our best option may be Anders," Yzerman said.
. Decide on other restricted free agents. Tampa Bay will likely decide by Monday on its remaining ones. Defenseman Andrej Sustr would seem likely to get signed. He's young and is a right-handed shot. Wings Brett Connolly and Richard Panik received qualifying offers, though Connolly could be moved. Defenseman Keith Aulie might be the odd-man out. Also in the group are forwards Cody Kunyk and Philippe Paradis, and defensemen Dmitry Korobov and Charles Landry.
. Sort out forward situation. The Lightning has a surplus of forwards. Among the regulars, Panik, Nikita Kucherov and Cody Paquette were in and out of the lineup last season. Last year's first-round pick, Jonathan Drouin, is expected to impact the club next season.
Would the Lightning be open to moving wing Teddy Purcell, who has a $4.5 million cap hit the next two seasons? It has many options.