TAMPA - The Lightning made a bold move on Thursday, cutting loose iconic captain Vinny Lecavalier in a business move that will free up the $7.7 million annual salary cap cost of Lecavalier's contract.
With Lecavalier now an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team - other than Tampa Bay - it leaves a gaping hole on the Lightning roster that needs to be filled.
The all-time franchise leader in goals with 383 and games played with 1,037, Lecavalier provided the secondary offensive threat behind top center Steven Stamkos, filled a power play role and was a consistent winner in the face-off circle.
Now, with Lecavlier out of the picture, how exactly general manager Steve Yzerman utilizes the available cap space could define how the franchise moves forward in the near future, as well as down the road.
"This was not done just with the idea for next year," Yzerman said. "This is a part of where the Lightning are going long term, what our goals are and how we are going to get there.''
There will be plenty of options for Yzerman to explore.
In the unrestricted free agent market - barring more buyouts around the league - there are veterans such Mike Ribeiro, Daniel Briere and Derek Roy. A younger option might be Tyler Bozak, if Toronto fails to sign him before the July 5 free-agent market opens.
There are also options within the Lightning organization, such as Tyler Johnson, the reigning American Hockey League MVP after leading the league with 37 goals. In his 14 games with the Lightning during the season, the 5-foot-9 Johnson had three goals and six points, was plus-3, proved reliable defensively and was stellar in the face-off circle.
Alex Killorn, who played on the wing after his call-up in February, played center in college and could be shifted to the middle.
And perhaps the longer-term solution is 2011 first-round pick Vladislav Namestnikov, who just finished his first pro season and played a top-six role in the postseason for Syracuse.
Then there is this weekend's NHL Entry Draft, where Tampa Bay holds the No. 3 overall pick. Yzerman could use that pick on a top-rated forward such as Nathan MacKinnon - though Colorado might nab him with the first selection - or Aleksander Barkov.
Yzerman, however, gave no indication on Thursday which route he might go to fill Lecavalier's void.
"I don't have a solution for replacing Vinny Lecavalier today,'' Yzerman said. "There is a $7.7 million-plus cap charge that went with Vinny's contract. Now, moving forward, we have created that space on the cap, so whenever the opportunity or situation arises we have more flexibility.''
More than just fans will be keeping a close on eye on the moves the team makes heading into training camp in September.
"I'm very interested to see,'' center Steven Stamkos said. "This is a big hole. Vinny was a great player for us. He's a top-six forward and a centerman and, obviously, that's something that is a gaping hole right now. You just have to hope management has a plan and we can add some players that are going to help us win. Everyone wants to win as soon as possible, and I'm the same way.''
There also a leadership role that will need to be filled. Lecavalier was the team captain the past five seasons, his second stint wearing the "C" on his sweater.
An argument could be made for Stamkos to assume the role - the 23-year-old has been an alternate captain for two seasons and figures to assume the role down the road. But the likely candidate is Marty St. Louis, who has been with the franchise since 2000-01 and been part of the leadership group for most of his Lightning tenure.
Those decisions, however, won't be made right away.
"That's something we'll address over the course of the summer, and we'll be prepared to announce and make the decision prior to the season at some point,'' Yzerman said.