TAMPA — The Lightning will not spend to the $59.4 million salary cap next season, though general manager Steve Yzerman said he is "very comfortable" with the "loose budget" set by owner Jeff Vinik entering Thursday's start of free agency.
"It's very workable with our roster and with our ability to improve the roster," Yzerman said Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Vinik has said the team will not be constrained financially, and Yzerman said he has assurances the budget will be flexible.
"Jeff has said to me, 'If you have a situation and it goes beyond our budget, we'll certainly talk about it,' " Yzerman said. "He said from Day 1 he's not going to be restrained. But having said that, I'm not going to be irresponsible and take advantage of my position."
In other words, Yzerman wants wiggle room in case he has to add payroll during the season. Tampa Bay's cap number is $39.37 million, with 12 players under contract and two buyouts.
"I don't want to spend it just because it's available," Yzerman said. "You're going to have a need at some point. If you spend all your money just because you have it, you're not going to be able to address all your needs.
"When there's a good fit and a need we have to address, whether it's for the short term or a piece that could fit long term, and the value of the player makes sense, we're going to commit to it."
FOSTER UPDATE: A day after defenseman Kurtis Foster said he was disappointed with the lack of progress on a new contract, Yzerman said, "We definitely have interest in him coming back."
Still, Yzerman said he has not extended an offer and expects Foster, an unrestricted free agent, "is going to look for a number significantly higher" than what Tampa Bay will offer.
Foster, 28, is coming off a breakout season in which he was a mainstay on the power play and had eight goals and a career-high 42 points.
"The feeling is they're going to see what the market is," Yzerman said.
The Penguins are believed to be interested.
RANGER UPDATE: Yzerman said he will try soon to speak to the agent for Paul Ranger to try to determine the defenseman's plans.
Ranger, 25, missed most of last season because of a personal issue. Yzerman said he wants him back:
"My thought right now is I'm not going to box myself into a position that if he comes back, I don't have a spot for him. I'm going to plan that hopefully he might be back, but it's too early to comment because I haven't talked to his agent at all."
BIG MAN OFF CAMPUS: The Lightning will not sign big Russian goaltender Vasily Koshechkin this year, Yzerman said, and it comes down to money.
Koshechkin, 27, a 2002 draft choice and a star in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, can sign for much more if he waits another year, when he will be too old to fall under the NHL's entry-level contract limits.