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LIGHTNING READY FOR ANYTHING

Steve Yzerman reiterated that he may not sign anyone today, the first day of free agency, when elite players get big-money, long-term deals. But that does not mean the Lightning's new general manager and his staff won't be working.

"I'm not going to sit there and shut the TV off and not answer the phone," Yzerman said Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum. "We're prepared. We know all the players available. If there's a player that fits and is interested in coming here, we're definitely going to pursue him."

But he said he will be "selective and careful," and he was adamant that "my position is we're not going to overpay."

That is partly because Yzerman said he will not spend to the $59.4 million salary cap, as per the budget set by owner Jeff Vinik, and because he needs to manage payroll with an eye on the $139 million the team has committed in long-term contracts.

It is a difficult landscape for Yzerman, who faces his first real test as head of hockey operations; he delegated much of the draft decisions to his scouts.

Yzerman would not reveal his plan other than to say his priority is a goaltender to compete with Mike Smith for the No. 1 job, followed by a puck-moving defenseman who could help on the power play.

Speculation is that goalie Chris Mason, 34, who last season played for the Blues, would be a good fit because his salary might be reasonable and he might be willing to sign a shorter-term deal, perhaps two years.

He also has a track record as a No. 1, something that can't be said for Antero Niittymaki, who shared net duties last season with Smith and also is an unrestricted free agent today.

Yzerman said he is interested in re-signing defenseman Kurtis Foster. But there is a growing sentiment Tampa Bay might have an eye on defenseman Paul Martin, 28, who played just 22 games last season for the Devils because of a broken arm injury but is known as a hard hitter and smart with the puck.

The catch: Martin would have to keep his salary at about the $4.5 million he made last season and be willing to take a shorter-term deal, perhaps three years.

It is the kind of deal Yzerman doesn't necessarily expect to see today. "It's no secret July 1 you're paying a premium, and I don't think we're in a position to pay premiums for guys," he said.

If he has to, Yzerman said, "we'll wait into the summer and try to address our needs as free agency cools off a little bit."

* * *

Top free-agent forwards (with 2009-10 stats)

PLAYER..................Team...........AGE...G......A.....PIM......SALARY

Colby Armstrong....Thrashers......27....15.....14.....61.......$2.4 million

Young wing has upside and leadership skills.

Ilya Kovalchuk.......Devils............27....41.....44.....53.......$7.5 million

Superskilled wing but pouty; might play in his native Russia.

Matthew Lombardi..Coyotes.........28....19.....34.....36.......$2.35 million

Center has speed to burn and might be available at reasonable price.

John Madden..........Blackhawks...37....10.....13.....12.......$2.75 million

Defensive specialist, faceoff expert and proven leader.

Ray Whitney..........Hurricanes.....38....21.....37.....26.......$3.55 million

Rumors of Tampa Bay interest, but wing wants to win now.

Top defensemen

PLAYER..................Team..........AGE....G......A....PIM.....SALARY

Joe Corvo..............Capitals.......33......6......12....12........$2.75 million

Can move the puck; limited last season by leg injury.

Sergei Gonchar......Penguins......36.....11.....39....49........$5.5 million

A presence on the power play, but will be very expensive.

Dan Hamhuis.........Predators*...27......5......19.....49........$2.5 million

Played six years with Nashville and missed nine games.

Paul Martin.............Devils.........28......2.......9.......2........$4.5 million

Hits and is smart with the puck; played just 22 games last season because of broken arm.

Zbynek Michalek....Coyotes.......27......3.....14......30.......$1.5 million

Might be headed to Ottawa as replacement for Anton Volchenkov.

Anton Volchenkov...Senators.....28......4.....10......38........$3.2 million

Shutdown player; eighth in league with 172 blocked shots.

* Negotiating rights traded to Penguins

Top goaltenders

PLAYER..................Team.........AGE....W......L.....OL.....GAA....SV%...SALARY

Dan Ellis................Predators*...30.....15.....13.....1......2.69... .909...$2 million

Pushed out of Nashville by emergence of Pekka Rinne.

Chris Mason...........Blues...........34.....30.....22.....8.....2.53... .913...$3 million

Could be a good bridge for Lightning until prospects are ready.

Evgeni Nabokov.....Sharks.........34.....44.....16.....10....2.43... .922...$5.375 million

Great regular-season performer who falters in playoffs.

Marty Turco...........Stars............34....22.....20.....11....2.72... .913...$5.4 million

Reliable starter who mentored Tampa Bay's Mike Smith in Dallas.

* Negotiating rights traded to Canadiens

* * *

Fast facts

Checking the cap

Lightning salaries and cap hits for the 2010-11 season (in millions):

PLAYER.................SALARY........CAP

Vinny Lecavalier....$10.............$7.727

Ryan Malone.........$6................$4.5

Marty St. Louis......$4................$5.25

Andrej Meszaros....$4...............$4

Mattias Ohlund......$4................$3.6

Mike Smith............$2.4.............$2.2

Matt Walker..........$1.625..........$1.7

Vinny Prospal........$1.167..........$1.167**

Victor Hedman......$900,000......$3.5*

Steven Stamkos....$875,000.......$3.725*

Adam Hall.............$600,000.......$600,000

Matt Lashoff..........$575,000.......$575,000

Matt Smaby..........$550,000........$525,000

Todd Fedoruk........$376,000.......$308,000**

Totals...................$37.068..........$39.37

Note: Salary cap is $59.4 million

* Includes all possible bonuses ** Buyouts

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