Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning must find a No. 1 goaltender this offseason

TAMPA — What kind of a summer does Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman face?

"It's huge," coach Guy Boucher said. "Everybody knows it's huge."

For pretty much one reason: Yzerman must find a No. 1 goaltender.

Asked where that is on his to-do-list, Yzerman chuckled.

"We'll look at ways to improve our team," he said Monday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. "We'll take a couple of weeks to consider our options and make some plans at that time."

One thing is sure, the Lightning cannot go another season with the league's worst goals-against average (3.34) and save percentage (.889).

Also assume this: Yzerman would love to acquire Vancouver's Cory Schneider.

It is a big if as the Canucks likely are more inclined to trade Roberto Luongo, though given his 12-year, $64 million contract that is a non-starter.

Schneider also is a potential restricted free agent, so acquiring him would mean a trade. And he will be high in demand, so the price will be high.

Good thing Yzerman has two first-round choices in the June draft and up to four second rounders to help construct a deal.

Because the organization lacks depth at the NHL level, Yzerman, speaking generally, acknowledged any big trade likely will include high-end prospects.

"You have to pay something that's going to be significant," he said.

Players will be watching, particularly Marty St. Louis who turns 37 in June.

"As you get older you want a whack at the playoffs and games in late May and early June and I think Steve knows that," St. Louis said. "If I didn't believe we could be playing those games next year, maybe I'd think about playing somewhere else.

"But I fully believe we can be in the battle next June because I know what Steve can bring. So, I'm optimistic … and we'll see where the summer goes."

Why is Schneider the first choice? Because he fits the criteria Yzerman wants for his No. 1.

He is young (26 in March), so he can grow with Tampa Bay's young stars. Though a backup, he has been in the NHL two full seasons so he understands what it takes to be in the league. And he is successful: 38-17-4 in 68 games with a 2.24 GAA and .928 save percentage.

Plan B might be Los Angeles' Jonathan Bernier or Nashville's Anders Lindback. Given what is available in free agency, do not expect Yzerman to go that route.

Mathieu Garon has one more year on his contract, but his best role is as a backup.

"We'll definitely be watching," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "(Yzerman) knows what he's doing. I'm not worried where this organization is going."

"We don't have a plan as of yet," Yzerman said. "Once the playoffs are over, we'll see what's out there and who's looking for what. At the end of the day, if there's not deal that makes sense, we have two (first-round draft choices) and possibly four seconds."

Not quite the same as a No. 1 goalie.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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