1. Ryan Callahan
Acquired from the New York Rangers in the deal that sent Marty St. Louis to New York, Callahan brought a gritty, workman-like style of play to the lineup, which the Lightning lacked at times this season. Though he didn’t have the postseason he had hoped or the Lightning would have liked to see, coach Jon Cooper and general manager Steve Yzerman would like to bring Callahan back, stating “the physical play, the tenacity he plays with, the character, those are important things, and he does the things that help you win games.” But Callahan, 29, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent July 1, when he would be among the best forwards available on the market. Expect the two sides to talk in the near future and for Tampa Bay to make a push to retain Callahan.
2. The young guys
Much was made of the Lightning’s influx of young players this season that had an impact on the team’s success, most notably co-Calder Trophy finalists Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, who finished second and third, respectively, in rookie scoring. But more than a handful of those players are now coming out of their entry-level contracts and will need new deals heading into next season. Richard Panik, Alex Killorn, Andrej Sustr, Palat and Johnson are restricted free agents, which means if they are not signed to a new deal by July 1, opposing teams are free to sign the players, though Tampa Bay would have the right to match any offer. Others, such as J.T. Brown and 2010 first-round pick Brett Connolly, are also up for new deals this summer.
3. The New York Rangers
Why are the Rangers on this list? Because Yzerman and Co. will be New York fans for at least the next month. As part of the deal that sent St. Louis to the Rangers, the Lightning received a conditional second-round pick in the 2014 draft. If the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference finals, that second-round pick becomes a first-round pick this year. That would then give Tampa Bay two first-round picks in each of the next two drafts, as the Lightning also received a 2015 first-round pick from the Rangers.
4. Adding defensive help
Some of the Lightning’s weaknesses were exposed during the first-round playoff loss to Montreal, and those weaknesses are likely to be addressed this summer. While the free-agent market is always an option, there are not many top-end blue-liners scheduled to be unrestricted this summer. Tampa Bay has been linked to potential trades for defensemen in the past, among them Vancouver’s Alex Edler and Phoenix’s Keith Yandle. This was an area on Yzerman’s wish list last summer, and it will likely be right at the top again.
5. Andrey Vasilevskiy
The Lightning’s first-round pick — 19th overall and second first-round selection — in the 2012 draft finished off a phenomenal season playing for Salavat in the Kontinental Hockey League, leading UFA to the semifinals. The 20-year-old goaltender is in the last year of his contract with Salavat, though the deal does not officially expire until Wednesday. Tampa Bay wants to get Vasilevskiy signed to a contract as soon as possible and get him to North America before the start of next season. If this lingers late into the summer, it could derail some plans within the organization.