TAMPA — Alex Killorn admits that he spent much time this season pondering his future in a Lightning uniform. In the final year of his contract, he put a lot of pressure on himself to perform, and he had his best offensive season yet at age 33, setting career highs with 27 goals and 64 points in playing all 82 regular-season games.
Now, as the Lightning enter the offseason following their first-round playoff exit, Killorn, their longest-tenured player — he was drafted by the organization in 2007 — may have seen his days in Tampa Bay come to an end.
Killorn tops a deep list of potential unrestricted free agents, and his performance this season will make it even more difficult for the Lightning to keep him, given their salary-cap constraints.
General manager Julien BriseBois said during Tuesday’s season-ending media availability that he wants to re-sign Killorn, but recent history makes that seem unlikely given how players including Ondrej Palat, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow priced themselves out of a return and left via free agency or trade.
Killorn wants to stay. He has become a fan favorite, has been active in the community and has adopted Tampa as his home.
“I love playing here,” he said Tuesday. “I love everything about Tampa. I love it. I don’t want to leave. You just have to look at all the angles, for sure, to make sure that you make the right decision.”
After his most productive regular season, Killorn only helped his stock in the postseason. The power forward scored a team-high-matching three goals in the six games against the Maple Leafs, recorded five points and made an impact on special teams and 5-on-5 play on a lock-down line with Anthony Cirelli and Brandon Hagel.
“We all hope he can stay,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “We see what he can do on the ice every night. Whether it’s scoring goals or setting up plays, being great on the defensive side of the puck, the (penalty kill), he’s just another one of those guys that every other team would love to have play for them.”
After the Lightning’s season ended with Saturday’s overtime loss to the Maple Leafs, Killorn sat silently at his locker. He was one of the last three players to leave the room. He said Tuesday that not knowing whether he had played his final game with the Lightning made the exit more difficult.
“All season, it has been something that I’ve thought about,” Killorn said. “You’re always thinking about your future, and luckily I thought I had a great year. But yeah, going forward, I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I know my agent and Julien will for sure be in talks, and hopefully something can be figured out. We haven’t talked enough about it yet.”
Killorn was reminded about Palat, a career-long Lightning player (drafted in 2011) who wanted to stay but the team couldn’t fit under the cap when his contract was up. He left in free agency in the last offseason. Killorn remembers talking to Palat, a teammate dating to their AHL days, throughout the 2021-22 season.
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“You do think about it, especially when you get to my age,” Killorn said. “You’re not (a restricted free agent), so nothing is guaranteed. … I think I played well. I probably had the best season of my career, and I think, you know, my age, I feel great. No injuries. Things have gone well.
“In the playoffs, I wasn’t worried about it. You want to win. But throughout the season, it’s just things you think about. We’re all human. You think about (how) you might be living somewhere different next year with your family and everything. So, definitely something that went through my mind.”
Two of the Lightning’s other key potential unrestricted free agents, forwards Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, also said they would like to return. Bellemare is 38, and Perry turns 38 on May 16. Both have been veteran leaders.
“I still have more in me,” Perry said. “I still want to play. We’ll see where it goes over the next few weeks and then take it from there.”
Said Bellemare, “In my mind, I love the game way too much, I can’t quit now. I don’t have the (Stanley) Cup yet.”
Another potential unrestricted free agent, defenseman Ian Cole, said last month he wants to return. Backup goaltender Brian Elliott, 38, also can be an unrestricted free agent.
Forward Mikey Eyssimont can be a Group 6 unrestricted free agent based on the few games he has played in the NHL with his pro experience. Eyssimont, acquired at the trade deadline from San Jose this season, made the $750,000 league minimum.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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