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Possibility of expansion one more headache for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said the team’s choice on its future No. 1 goaltender might be more complicated if the NHL decides to expand.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said the team’s choice on its future No. 1 goaltender might be more complicated if the NHL decides to expand.
Published Mar. 20, 2016

GLENDALE, Ariz. — One of the more interesting developments to come out of last week's general manager meetings in Boca Raton was a potential expansion draft format.

And it promises to be a big headache for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.

The NHL is expected to decide before the June 24-25 draft whether it will expand, with Las Vegas and Quebec City the candidates. If another team (or two) is added, there will be an expansion draft a year from now, and that could impact the Lightning's plans this summer and beyond.

"It has to," Yzerman said.

The expansion draft rules, which are not set in stone, are for teams to protect either three defensemen and seven forwards or eight skaters of any makeup. And just one goaltender.

Needless to say, that decision won't be any fun for Yzerman.

"Nope," he said.

The Lightning boast two world-class goalies in All-Star Ben Bishop, who should warrant Vezina Trophy consideration this season, and touted prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was already going to be a tough call for Yzerman, with Bishop having one season left on his contract (at $5.95 million).

But now, Yzerman admits, picking the No. 1 goaltender of the future "potentially" might have to come sooner. It'd be either trade one of them this summer or by next season's deadline, or risk having one picked for nothing.

"I think we have two fantastic goalies and I'd love to be able to keep them forever," Yzerman said. "If teams can only protect one goaltender, there's going to be a lot of teams in position to have to make decisions. We'll have to make decisions. Ultimately, you have to lose one player, and there's no guarantee we'd lose (one). But I'm sure they'd be getting long looks if we leave them exposed."

You can take it to the bank: Either Bishop or Vasilevskiy would be snatched up if not protected. But that won't be the only difficult decision. While unsigned draft picks and players in their first three pro seasons are exempt from the expansion draft, Yzerman would have to figure out how it impacts his entire roster.

Sure, there are locks to be protected like defenseman Victor Hedman, wing Nikita Kucherov, likely along with fellow Triplets Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. If Steven Stamkos is re-signed, of course he's included. You'd think Anton Stralman, with two years left on his deal, would be kept. But does that impact the length of deals Yzerman offers pending free agents like Vladislav Namestnikov, J.T. Brown, etc? How about prospects like Slater Koekkoek?

"We're all going to lose a player, that's the bottom line," Yzerman said. "We don't know what position that's going to be. For that matter, it may be a young guy that's not even on your team, a good player that's playing in the American Hockey League. I don't think we need to overthink it. But every general manager's goal is to try to figure out a way to keep your team as competitive as possible. It's just, how do you do that? Do you trade certain players? Do you not trade for certain players? It's a challenge for everyone."

Slap shots: Yzerman has said it's a "real possibility" that RW Jonathan Drouin could get recalled by the Lightning from AHL Syracuse this season. Yzerman noted Drouin played "very well" in his first three games for the Crunch last weekend after a six-week holdout, his "attitude was good. … We want him playing, he wants to play," Yzerman said. "And if at any time I feel he's going to help us in Tampa, and it's going to make our team better, the only right thing to do with any player that's in Syracuse, we'll do that. We'll just continue to monitor it." … The projected salary cap of $74 million, up from $71.4 million, can only help the Lightning, which is up against it currently.