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Lightning mailbag: On trade possibilities, defensemen, agent changes and more

Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) and Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) battle Ottawa Senators right wing Curtis Lazar (27) for the puck during the second period of Thursday√¢‚‚ ̈‚„¢s (2/2/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ottawa Senators at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) and Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) battle Ottawa Senators right wing Curtis Lazar (27) for the puck during the second period of Thursday√¢‚‚ ̈‚„¢s (2/2/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ottawa Senators at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Published Apr. 23, 2017

TAMPA — So the Lightning won as many playoff games this year as the Blackhawks, the Western Conference's top seed getting swept in the first round.

So much for my pre-postseason Stanley Cup pick.

While Tampa Bay has turned its attention to preparing for June's amateur and expansion drafts, there are plenty of other Lightning story lines to follow. So I took your questions on Twitter for this weekend's mailbag:

Will the Lightning fill in that open top-four defenseman spot through trade or free agency? Or draft and wait?

Most likely trade. Drafting and developing isn't a bad idea, and prospect Erik Cernak (acquired in February's Ben Bishop trade to the Kings) could grow into a top-four guy, says Craig Button, an analyst for Canada's TSN network. But this need is more immediate for a Lightning team that can still be a Stanley Cup contender. Kevin Shattenkirk will be the highest-profile right-shot, top-four defenseman in free agency, but he'll be expensive, and he nixed a deal to Tampa Bay in January. Best bet is the Lightning tries to acquire a defenseman leading up to the late June amateur draft, potentially targeting teams such as Nashville, Anaheim, Minnesota and St. Louis.

Which player is most likely to get traded?

Forwards Jonathan Drouin or Tyler Johnson. The Lightning could make smaller deals, like with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, or try to unload the contract of defenseman Jason Garrison ($4.6 million cap hit). But Drouin or Johnson would be the biggest available chip to net a defenseman, and reports said Drouin was part of the trade that defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk nixed while with St. Louis in January. I'm not ruling out either Drouin or Johnson being re-signed (not a lot of talks have been held with the potential restricted free agents). But they're players other teams would covet. And center Brayden Point provides a backup plan for Johnson.

Why didn't Jonathan Drouin decide to play for Canada at next month's World Championship?

Hard to know exactly, not having spoken with Drouin directly on the subject. But he has already played a lot of hockey this season, including September's World Cup for Team North America. Don't read into it as a slight of Canada, or its coach, the Lightning's Jon Cooper.

What does Nikita Kucherov changing agents mean, if anything?

Not much. Agent changes happen fairly often. His new agent, Dan Milstein, represents a half-dozen Russian players, including Chicago's Artemi Panarin (who switched to Milstein before signing his deal this season), Pavel Datsyuk and former Lightning defenseman Nikita Nesterov, who likely advised Kucherov. For those who linked Kucherov's switch to his team-friendly three-year bridge deal signed in October (with a $4.6 million annual cap hit), it's hard to blame previous agent Scott Greenspun. The Lightning had all the leverage in that negotiation with Kucherov, then a restricted free agent who didn't want to miss games. The next deal will be a different case, with Kucherov a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

SLAP SHOTS: Think Lightning assistant general manager Julien BriseBois would be a solid candidate for the GM vacancy in Buffalo, but owner Terry Pegula indicated he's looking for someone with GM experience. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has said it's a matter of time before BriseBois gets his shot, believing he'll be an "outstanding manager." … Welcome to Twitter, Nikita Kucherov (@86Kucherov). The Russian already is more verbose on social media than in most recent interviews. … Defenseman Victor Hedman's nod as a Norris Trophy finalist is much deserved. I bet he finishes second to fellow Swede Erik Karlsson of the Senators. … The Lightning will find out at Saturday's draft lottery where it will pick in the first round; right now it would pick 14th, with a 1.8 percent chance of snatching No. 1. … Alex Killorn's inclusion on Team Canada for next month's World Championship means six Lightning players will be competing in the tournament (Brayden Point, Canada; Hedman and Anton Stralman, Sweden; Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy, Russia). So much for a summer of rest. … It's impressive that forward prospect Brett Howden is already playing a significant role for AHL Syracuse weeks after his pro debut.

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Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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