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Five things we learned about Lightning from start of free agency

Tampa Bay is in better salary-cap shape than it was a couple of days ago and even managed to add a few pieces.
Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian (24) looks up at the scoreboard during a 2020 game against the Bruins in Tampa. After a year with the Maple Leafs, Bogosian returned to Tampa Bay on a three-year deal.
Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian (24) looks up at the scoreboard during a 2020 game against the Bruins in Tampa. After a year with the Maple Leafs, Bogosian returned to Tampa Bay on a three-year deal. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 29
Updated Jul. 31

TAMPA — Blake Coleman, David Savard and Luke Schenn left. Corey Perry, Brian Elliott and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare arrived. Zach Bogosian returned. And Brayden Point will be sticking around a lot longer.

With all of the comings and goings, the Lightning were as busy as any team in the NHL at the start of free agency.

Related: NHL free agency wrapup: How the Lightning stayed busy on opening day

What did it all mean? And where does it leave the team now?

Here are five things we learned:

The Lightning are in better cap shape

Then-Montreal Canadien Corey Perry (94) and Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) talk to a referee during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final at Amalie Arena.
Then-Montreal Canadien Corey Perry (94) and Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) talk to a referee during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final at Amalie Arena. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

By trading players or allowing them to leave via free agency, the Lightning got closer to the projected $81.5 million cap for the 2021-22 season. According to PuckPedia, they were $5.74 million over the cap with 21 players on the projected roster following Friday’s moves. With Brent Seabrook expected to go on long-term injured reserve, they can potentially exceed the cap by up to $6.875 million, giving them $1.13 million in space.

At this point, general manager Julien BriseBois said Wednesday, the team is in a “dollar-in, dollar-out” kind of situation. If something falls into the Lightning’s lap that the team believes can improve it and they can make the money work, as seemingly happened with Perry, they will be open to those opportunities.

“We’re very limited in the cap space that’s available,” BriseBois said. “Luckily for us, I think we got really good value on the guys we signed.”

Related: Lightning sign Brayden Point to eight-year extension

Retaining younger players is a priority

Lightning wing Ross Colton drives to the net as the Carolina Hurricanes' Dougie Hamilton (19) and Alex Nedeljkovic (39) defend during a game in April in Tampa.
Lightning wing Ross Colton drives to the net as the Carolina Hurricanes' Dougie Hamilton (19) and Alex Nedeljkovic (39) defend during a game in April in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

With the loss of six players from the Stanley Cup team and necessity of developing players stepping into bigger roles, it becomes paramount for the Lightning to re-sign its younger players, as they did the past two days with defenseman Cal Foote and forward Alex Barre-Boulet.

Restricted free agent Ross Colton, as well as unrestricted free agents Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh, also were issued qualifying offers Monday.

Restricted free agents Ross Colton and Alex Barre-Boulet, as well as unrestricted free agents Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh, also were issued qualifying offers Monday.

“We’re focused on the UFAs now,” BriseBois said. “We can turn our attention to the RFAs and getting contracts done with all of those good, young players.”

Related: The Lightning just lost six players, but not their superiority

What Bogosian signing means for Foote

Lightning defenseman Cal Foote (52) takes a shot during a game against the Blackhawks in January at Amalie Arena.
Lightning defenseman Cal Foote (52) takes a shot during a game against the Blackhawks in January at Amalie Arena. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Foote, the Lightning’s first-round pick in the 2017 draft who went 14th overall, got his first taste of NHL play this past season, playing in 35 games during the regular season. He was inactive throughout the postseason following the acquisition of Savard just before the trade deadline.

With Savard and Schenn now gone and Bogosian back in the mix, where does that leave Foote?

Foote, who averaged 12:53 last season, figures to compete for ice time with Bogosian and Jan Rutta behind the top four of Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak.

“I would expect the seven guys that we have, including Cal ... who I am looking forward to getting signed here shortly, are all going to play regularly,” BriseBois said.

Related: Lightning community rallies behind Sonya Bryson-Kirksey with fundraiser, T-shirt

Bellemare will help in numerous ways

Then-Colorado Avalanche forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, pictured during a game against the Arizona Coyotes in March in Glendale, Ariz.
Then-Colorado Avalanche forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, pictured during a game against the Arizona Coyotes in March in Glendale, Ariz. [ RICK SCUTERI | AP ]

Bellemare, 36, played eight seasons in Sweden before arriving in the NHL in 2014-15 at age 29. The fast, skilled, “sneaky-good” two-way forward can play up and down the lineup and is expected to restore some of the grit the Lightning lost with the departure of its entire third line.

“He can assume some of those minutes that the Barclay Goodrows and the Yanni Gourdes and the Blake Colemans were playing,” Brise Bois said, “whether it’s staying in games protecting leads or on the penalty kill or taking a big faceoff, especially in the defensive zone.”

Related: Lightning draft defenseman Roman Schmidt with top pick

Tampa Bay is now a free-agent ‘destination’

Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian (24) battles Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Zach Hyman (11) to control the puck during a 2020 game in Tampa.
Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian (24) battles Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Zach Hyman (11) to control the puck during a 2020 game in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The Lightning didn’t have as much room to maneuver under the cap as some of the teams they were competing with for players. But as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, agents still took their calls and made pitches of their own.

In some cases, Tampa Bay was able to bring in players on value deals, such as Bogosian.

“Getting a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup when you’re an unrestricted free agent and you get to decide where you want to go, especially if you’ve already made significant amounts of money already in your career,” Brise Bois said, “I would think the opportunity to chase a championship is very appealing to you, first and foremost.

“Over time, I think we’ve created an organization and an environment that is appealing to players.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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