TAMPA — Don't expect the Lightning to make a franchise-changing acquisition at the start of free agency, general manager Steve Yzerman said.
A more likely scenario is to see who is available after the high-priced assets are signed.
"As much as I would love to have a big splash on July 1, I don't want to sign a player just to have a press conference," Yzerman said this week at the St. Pete Times Forum. "It has to make sense. That's the discipline we have to have. "
Tampa Bay certainly has needs. With coach Guy Boucher prepared to install a system that, in his words, will be "very aggressive" offensively, an elite puck-moving defenseman is a natural target.
But Yzerman said the pool of those set to be available is shallow. Sergei Gonchar and Scott Niedermayer top a list that is filled more with players such as Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman and Joe Corvo.
"So there's going to be a real premium on the ones that are there," Yzerman said. "And those guys are not signing one-year deals. Can we afford to do that?"
Add that the Lightning already is on the hook for a combined $45 million in multiyear contracts to defensemen Mattias Ohlund, Andrej Meszaros and Matt Walker — and don't forget the $75 million owed C Vinny Lecavalier the next 10 years or the next big contracts for C Steven Stamkos and D Victor Hedman — it seems more practical to acquire any elite player though trade.
Or wait to see if free agent prices come down.
"(If) there are guys who can move the puck who for whatever reason don't go on July 1 — they ask for too much (money) or they're not the highest-demand guys — we'd look at that," Yzerman said.
He will look at the top players, too, but added, "If we were going to get involved in that, we have to be absolutely certain it's a player we really want for four, five, six, seven years, even.
"Then we have to look at our commitments. Does he fit? Will it prevent us from doing something a year from now with our own players? You don't want to be in a position two years from now where we can't sign our own players and have to start moving players based on numbers."
PAYROLL: Yzerman said he and owner Jeff Vinik will settle on a budget next week. The salary cap is expected to increase perhaps $1 million from last season's $56.8 million. Vinik has said finances will not constrain the team.
DRAFT: There is a "remote" possibility the Lightning will trade the No. 6 overall pick in the June 25-26 draft, Yzerman said.
"We need depth at every position," he said, adding that he will not part with picks or prospects unless the scenario is a no-brainer.
Yzerman said he is committed to taking the "best player available" with his first pick. Given decent depth at goalie, that likely will be a defenseman or forward. Some of the possibilities include D Cam Fowler (Windsor, OHL), C Alex Burmistrov (Barrie, OHL) and D Brandon Gormley (Moncton, QMJHL).
Tampa Bay's picks, with rounds in parentheses, are 6 (1), 63 (3), 66 (3), 72 (3), 96 (4), 118 (4), 156 (6) and 186 (7).
ODDS AND ENDS: Yzerman said he has not spoken to D Paul Ranger, who missed most of this past season with a personal issue. Ranger's agent said he had "no new information" on his client's plans. … D Kurtis Foster, set to be an unrestricted free agent, could be re-signed if the numbers work, Yzerman said. … Former Lightning LW Mathieu Darche, who played for Boucher at Montreal's McGill University and AHL Hamilton, said the coach is "too good to be true." … Yzerman said he likely won't decide on a coach or a general manager for AHL Norfolk until mid to late July. Jim Johnson, who coached last season, is still under contract.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.