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Lightning shifts search for defense to free agency

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101
Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101
Published Jun. 25, 2017

CHICAGO — As much as he tried, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman left the weekend's draft without acquiring another top-four defenseman.

You can see how expensive that type of player is. The Flames sent their 2018 first- and second-round picks plus another second-rounder to the Islanders for Travis Hamonic on Saturday. The Wild's Marco Scandella is drawing interest from several teams, including Tampa Bay.

"It's supply and demand," Yzerman said.

But Yzerman will continue to try to improve his team, seeking a defenseman and at least one top-nine wing. And it continues with today's midnight opening of a window to speak with pending unrestricted free agents from other teams, players who can be signed starting July 1.

"We've got some spots on our roster. We've got some cap space," Yzerman said. "We need to see if we can re-sign our own free agents, and we'll focus on that. We'll look into some of the players in free agency and see if we can address some of our needs that way. It's going to be a busy week, but what we actually accomplish, I'm not sure."

The Lightning has $23 million in salary cap space, but likely around $10 million of that will go into re-signing pending restricted free agents Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, both of whom are coming off identical three-year, $10 million bridge deals. Negotiations — said to be going well — are expected to pick up now that the expansion draft and amateur draft are over.

Yzerman also wants to re-sign pending unrestricted free agent Yanni Gourde.

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"We'll continue to talk, and I plan to get them signed," Yzerman said of Johnson and Palat. "I can't tell you if that's (July 1) or later on. But we'll keep trying."

There are notable free agents the Lightning could explore this week. On defense, Kevin Shattenkirk leads a small class, though he's going to be expensive, and he already reportedly nixed a trade from St. Louis to Tampa in January. Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner is available, as are the Blackhawks' Brian Campbell and the Sabres' Cody Franson.

At forward, there's Canadiens 30-year-old right wing Alexander Radulov, who had 18 goals last season, and big names Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau of the Sharks. The Lightning could more likely find a fit in a veteran such as Justin Williams or Sam Gagner, though Gagner is due a big raise from $650,000 after his 18-goal season in Columbus last year. Jarome Iginla, 39, who nearly signed with Tampa Bay a few summers ago, is also available. So is former Lightning center Brian Boyle.

"There aren't a lot of players out there," Yzerman said. "So the players that are, are probably going to be paid pretty well."

What Yzerman finds out this week will likely give him a better feel for whether his needs can be filled via free agency July 1 or via trade. Scandella is one of several defensemen still being shopped. The Lightning has a deep prospect pool of forwards to deal from.

And after having to do so much work to get out of cap trouble — thanks to last season's trade-deadline deals of Valtteri Filppula and Ben Bishop, and ensuring Vegas took Jason Garrison in Wednesday's expansion draft — Yzerman appears wary of overpaying.

"You better be prepared to give more term and more money than you want on July 1," Yzerman said. "Or you wait until after. Or you wait until after and you might miss out. It's tricky.

"We've done a lot here to give ourselves a little bit of flexibility. We don't want to put ourselves right back in the same position if we're not confident that it's really going to make a difference."

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