The Tampa Bay Lightning's conference final defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins may have been heartbreaking, but the club advanced much further than anyone, even the most diehard Lightning fan, dared to dream when the season began.
Steve Yzerman did an impressive job in his first year as Lightning GM, but will face some difficult choices in the off-season with several pending free agents to decide on.
ESPN.com's Scott Burnside recently listed the Lightning's most notable unrestricted free agents, including goalies Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith, defensemen Eric Brewer and Marc-Andre Bergeron, right winger Adam Hall and left wingers Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim.
Burnside wouldn't be surprised if Yzerman re-signed the 41-year-old Roloson to another one-year contract for around the same money ($2.5 million) he earned this season, but it’s unclear if the team will re-sign Smith, who earned $2.2 million in 2010-11.
Another backup possibility is farm team goalie Cedric Desjardins, who played for coach Guy Boucher in the American League last season.
The playoff performances of Brewer and Bergeron will bolster their stock considerably and make them more expensive to retain.
Bergenheim and Hall could be re-signed, though UFA Bergenheim would likely receive more lucrative offers via the free agent market.
Gagne's injury history will not only impact the possibility of him re-signing with the Lightning, but will also adversely affect his value as a free agent.
What will ultimately determine who stays or goes in Tampa is the available salary cap space.
According to CapGeek.com, the Lightning presently have $36.5 million invested in 11 players and must re-sign restricted free agent center Steven Stamkos to a new long-term deal, which could be worth more than $7 million per season.
Right winger Teddy Purcell is also a restricted free agent and his strong performance in both this year's regular season (51 points) and playoffs (17 points in 18 games) puts him in line for a considerable pay hike over the $750,000 he made in 2010-11, to around $2 million per season.
Assuming the combined salaries for Stamkos and Purcell come in at $9 million, it would bump the Bolts payroll to about $45 million invested in 13 players.
From then on, much of the Lightning’s off-season will depend on how much owner Jeff Vinik is willing to invest in next season's payroll. The team may have to spend to the cap ceiling to retain their key players and make other additions as needed.
Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic recently suggested there could be “a domino effect forming” that would have an impact on the makeup of next season's Phoenix Coyotes roster, with goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov as the “head domino.”
Bryzgalov will seek a substantial raise over his previous three-year, $12.75-million contract and Gintonio believes if the goalie gets close to what he wants it would radically change the Coyotes financial picture.
GM Don Maloney, however, insisted he wouldn’t invest too much on one player if it'll adversely affect his payroll space for next season.
The other two notable free agents are defensemen Keith Yandle (RFA) and Ed Jovanovski (UFA).
Yandle, 24, is a restricted free agent whose performance has earned him a considerable raise over the $1.2 million he made this season. Jovanovski, 34, is approaching the tail end of his long career and must agree to a considerable salary cut from the $6.5 million he made this season if he hopes to remain with the Coyotes.
Further hampering Maloney's efforts is the continued uncertainty over the club's ownership and future in the city, which likely means the team will have one of the league’s lowest payrolls for a third straight season. But Gintonio suggested that mark could still be around $56 million, which would be a considerable bump over the roughly $50.5 million payroll the Coyotes had for 2010-11.
CapGeek.com listed the Coyotes as having $29.7 million invested in 13 players for next season, so if Maloney's payroll goes up to $56 million, he'll have more than $25 million of available cap space with which to work this summer.
That sounds like more than enough to re-sign Bryzgalov, Yandle and Jovanovski and still leave enough to re-up youngsters such as Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker, plus perhaps re-sign veterans Radim Vrbata and Eric Belanger.
But, of course, the uncertainty over the club's future will also potentially hamper their efforts to attract other free agents this summer.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey News.