General manager Brian Lawton said he wants one more substantial asset for the Lightning — a top-six forward.
It is not a sure thing given the team's financial constraints, so Lawton intends to give himself room by buying out the three years remaining on Vinny Prospal's four-year contract.
The move will cost Tampa Bay two-thirds of the $10.5 million Prospal is owed spread over double the remaining life of the contract. In other words, the left wing will get $7 million over six seasons; $1.17 million a year, a savings for the Lightning of $2.33 million next season.
"Sometimes you can get too expensive in this salary cap world," Lawton said Tuesday. "This is probably an example of that."
Tampa Bay has done substantial cost cutting. It saved $1.23 million next season by trading Radim Vrbata, and no one will be surprised if a defenseman is traded, with Lukas Krajicek and his $1.475 million contract a prime candidate.
Asked if the moves were simple cost containment — Tampa Bay's payroll is $46.72 million — or with an eye on adding a scoring wing to perhaps play with center Vinny Lecavalier, Lawton said it was the latter:
"I'd like to add another top-six forward, one that adds a little different chemistry, a little more speed. We want to play a more up-tempo game. And we really want guys that care."
What free agents are out there? If willing to take one-year deals at lower rates for a chance to play with Lecavalier and juice careers that took steps back last season, Alex Tanguay and Petr Sykora would top the list.
Lawton said he also could trade for a forward, which would better control payroll because of the salary shipped out.
"The question is whether we can get anything done," Lawton said. "It's a tough equation. There haven't been a lot of moves by teams. The faucet was shut off by about July 4, and that is because the league is oversold. But there are some good players out there."
Prospal, 34, who signed a four-year, $14 million deal last summer that began his third stint with the Lightning, was not good last season. One year after scoring a career-best 34 goals in a season split between Tampa Bay and the Flyers, Prospal had 19 goals, 45 points in 82 games, and only three NHL players were worse than his minus-20.
Lawton said Prospal declined to waive his no-trade clause.
Prospal, who recently bought a new house in Tampa, is in his native Czech Republic and declined comment.
"I just accepted it," agent Ritch Winter said of the buyout. "I don't know what else you do. You can have an opinion different than the hockey gods of a particular team, but the Lightning made the decision, and we'll just move on from there."
There are some mechanics. Prospal still must clear waivers, though he can opt out of that process, take the buyout immediately and become an unrestricted free agent. If Prospal goes through waivers, a claiming team will be responsible for the $10.5 million left on his contract. Otherwise, the buyout will be official when Prospal clears. He would join former Lightning goalie Marc Denis, who gets $1 million next season in the final year of his buyout.
"It's a very difficult situation," Lawton said of "paying someone to go away. … We like Vinny Prospal. He's a good guy. It's just in a salary cap world you get pushed into making tough decisions. This was one of them."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org