For Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, the heavy lifting began Thursday, when he really got down to the business of signing Tampa Bay's free agents.
Yzerman said he is working off a list "because every contract I do is going to affect the next one."
No surprise, then, the list begins with the players who will command the most money: center Steven Stamkos and top-four defenseman Eric Brewer.
None of Tampa Bay's 12 restricted or unrestricted free agents has been told he will not return next season, Yzerman said. But he admitted, "I probably can't bring everybody back."
That said, "I've told a few guys I've got a few contracts I've got to do first before I can make a decision on you."
Stamkos, 21, who has a league-best 96 goals the past two seasons, will cost about $7 million a season. He will be a restricted free agent if not signed by July 1. Tampa Bay could match any outside offer, but those tend to jack up the price.
Brewer, 32, an unrestricted free agent who made $4.5 million last season, won't come cheap, either. Top-four defensemen are in great demand around the league, and his strong postseason, in which he had a goal and seven points in 18 games while averaging a team-high 25:36 of ice time, solidified his value.
"He played very well for us," Yzerman said. "We intend to offer him a contract. It all comes down to how much we can afford to pay for the position and how much the player is asking. We haven't had those discussions yet. But at my end-of-the-year meeting, he indicated he enjoyed playing here in Tampa and is interested in exploring signing an extension with us."
As for Stamkos, both sides have said they want a deal.
Yzerman said he has been playing "phone tag" with Stamkos' agent Don Meehan but reiterated, "We want (Stamkos) to be a Lightning player for a long time and our intention is to reach an agreement that works for all the parties involved."
For the Lightning, that means also being able to sign goalies Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith, and wings Sean Bergenheim and Teddy Purcell. Wing Simon Gagne, who had a good second half of the season and playoffs, but also had injury issues, might be one of those players further down the list.
Yzerman also has to be cognizant of potential free agents for whom he might want to bid; Brad Richards anyone?
"Before we can worry about any potential player," Yzerman said, speaking generally, "I have to know how much money I have left over."
Making it a bit easier is an expected payroll increase promised, Yzerman has said, by owner Jeff Vinik. Tampa Bay's salary cap hit last season was about $55 million. Next season's league cap is expected to be as high as $63.5 million, up from $59.4 million.
Whatever the numbers, Yzerman said his process began Thursday.
"I have calls in to three or four agents," he said. "We're getting the ball rolling."
"Who do I start with?" Yzerman said, laughing and bringing the conversation back to Stamkos. "I'm just going to pull a name out of a hat."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]