TAMPA — GM Steve Yzerman clearly has some work to do this summer, his Lightning team having been "humbled" by missing the postseason.
But Yzerman maintains he doesn't know if he's more likely to improve his team via trade or free agency, with so many variables in play. The most pressing one is the June 21 expansion draft for Vegas.
"The expansion draft is on everyone's mind right now," Yzerman said. "I'm not really sure what we'll be able to do. I've just got to be patient and see how things play out."
Vegas, which begins play next season, appears ready to deal, and it's likely the Golden Knights will have moves to announce this week once the Stanley Cup final is over. Vegas GM George McPhee told Canada's TSN TV network he's willing to take on some bad contracts of other teams and is looking to compile draft picks (the Lightning has two second-rounders at this year's June 23-24 amateur draft).
Yzerman said he has spoken with McPhee but isn't sure if he can work out a side deal, which would control what unprotected Lightning player is chosen in the expansion draft. But Tampa Bay could also make moves this week with teams that have a glut on defense (see: Ducks, Wild). The issue there is any player the Lightning would get in return would have to be on its expansion-draft protected list, which is due at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Yzerman could also make a move with Vegas in which the Golden Knights agree to take a certain team's defenseman in the expansion draft, then ship him to Tampa Bay in a separate deal.
"A lot of things are out of my control right now," Yzerman said. "I don't know what other teams are discussing with regard to expansion and Vegas. I know what I'd like to do, but we'll see how it plays out."
The Tampa Bay Times took Lightning fans' questions on Twitter. Here is a sampling:
What's more likely, the Lightning trading Alex Killorn or him being taken in the expansion draft?
A trade. I would anticipate that if the Lightning wants to move Killorn, it will try to get something for him before his no-trade clause kicks in July 1. Shedding the forward's $4.45 million annual salary cap hit for the next six seasons could provide flexibility, but Killorn, 6 feet 1 and 196 pounds, has size the Lightning has been lacking up front. It's crazy that a player Yzerman called "part of our core" last summer would even be in this conversation.
There have been rumors about Jonathan Drouin getting traded. What's the likelihood it happens?
I don't feel like it's guaranteed but wouldn't be surprised if he is moved. We should know more in the next three weeks, leading up to the amateur draft. There's no doubt Drouin is the team's most coveted trade chip, but an impressive package should be needed to net him. Would the Avalanche give up defenseman Tyson Barrie (and more) to pair Drouin with former junior teammate Nathan MacKinnon? Could Drouin be used to lure an excess defenseman from the Ducks (Sami Vatanen) or Wild (Matt Dumba)?
Who would be the most vulnerable to be taken in the expansion draft?
Depends who is left off the Lightning's protected list. If Vladislav Namestnikov is available, he's the kind of versatile, relatively inexpensive forward Vegas could want. Alex Killorn would rank among the more offensively productive forwards if available, and Vegas coach Gerard Gallant got an up-close look coaching him for Canada at the World Championship last month. Vegas, expected to load up on defensemen, could look to Slater Koekkoek or Jake Dotchin if either potential restricted free agent is unprotected.
Will the Lightning re-sign goalies Kristers Gudlevskis or Mike McKenna?
We know Steve Yzerman said prospect Connor Ingram will be at AHL Syracuse next season, paired with a veteran. And it seems like McKenna, acquired from Florida at this season's trade deadline, at age 34, would be the better fit, having buoyed the Crunch on its run to the Calder Cup final. Gudlevskis, 24, a fifth-round draft pick in 2013, is expected to be exposed in the expansion draft, and I'm betting he's playing somewhere else next season.