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Lightning mourn loss of inspirational fan Tony Colton

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper  with Tony Colton on Oct. 11 as part of Coop's Catch for Kids charity fishing tournament.

Dirk Shadd | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper with Tony Colton on Oct. 11 as part of Coop's Catch for Kids charity fishing tournament.

Tony Colton may have looked up to the Lightning players he got the chance to befriend the past couple years.

But to them, Colton, 17, was the real inspiration.

Colton's seven-year battle with cancer ended Sunday night when the Sarasota teenager passed away. It hit home for many in the Lightning organization; Colton was a fixture at Amalie Arena in recent seasons, and was an inspiration for Jon Cooper's "Catch for Kids," which raised money for pediatric cancer. Colton courageously created awareness for undifferentiated sarcoma, a rare childhood affliction that starts in the body's soft tissue.

"Tony was a special kid," tweeted Lightning wing Ryan Callahan. "The courage and bravery he showed every day was truly inspiring. You will be greatly missed

Tweeted center Tyler Johnson: "So tough to hear. Tony was a true inspiration and friend. The amount of courage you showed is incredible. Tony, thank you for you being you." …

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Lightning mailbag: 'No issues' with Steven Stamkos recovery

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) and Florida Panthers center Derek MacKenzie (17) line up for the ceremonial puck drop with Lightning former team captain Vinny Lecavalier and two of his three children, Gabriel and Victoria, at Amalie Arena in Tampa Oct. 18, 2016.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) and Florida Panthers center Derek MacKenzie (17) line up for the ceremonial puck drop with Lightning former team captain Vinny Lecavalier and two of his three children, Gabriel and Victoria, at Amalie Arena in Tampa Oct. 18, 2016.

It's the dog days of the NHL offseason, with the calendar finally ready to flip to August.

But there's still plenty to talk about, and debate, even with training camps more than a month away.

Enjoyed fielding some of your Lightning-related questions on Twitter (@TBTimes_JSmith), and here's my thoughts on some hot topics:

*How is Steven Stamkos doing?

Captain Steven Stamkos is having one heck of a summer, recently honeymooning with bride Sandra to celebrate last month's wedding in Toronto. He attended Victor Hedman's wedding a couple weeks ago in Sweden.

But Stamkos has also been working hard, continuing his recovery from mid-November knee surgery, which sidelined him for most of last season. GM Steve Yzerman has told me he expects Stamkos to be ready to go for camp and the start of next season. And the few times I've communicated with the Stamkos, he's been positive.

"He's doing great," agent Mark Guy said. "No issues."

The biggest question, however, is what Stamkos we will see on the ice this season? With a surgery of this magnitude, repairing a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, there tends to be some lingering impact. Wild wing Zach Parise, who had the same surgery on the same knee in November 2010, told the Times it took him "a year and a half to get back to feeling back to normal." Stamkos was playing arguably the best hockey of his life last season when he got hurt. There's no doubt plenty of eyes will be on the face of the franchise when training camp opens in mid-September.

*Thet Bolts sort of have a logjam on 'D' suddenly. Do you see them trading (Andrej) Sustr in the offseason?

It's possible the Lightning could move a defenseman - like Sustr - before the start of the regular season. Tampa Bay currently has eight NHL-ready defensemen, if you include Mikhail Sergachev, 19, who I believe has a strong chance to make the opening night roster. Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin were re-signed, and need to play. Veteran Dan Girardi, signed to a two-year, $6 million deal, wasn't given that money to be a 7th defenseman; he's been told he'll play qualilty minutes. Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Braydon Coburn are obvious regulars. While Yzerman said he can carry eight defensemen, that doesn't seem like the most ideal situation, one or two guys sitting each night. I think the Lightning will let training camp play out, see if Sergachev proves ready, see if everyone stays healthy. In the end, Sustr, who is on a one-year, $1.95 million deal, could be moved.

*Do you think the Lightning signing Jaromir Jagr is a possibility?
 …

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Lightning with six national games this season

The Lightning will have six nationally-televised games this season, two of which coming against the Blackhawks.

All six will be on NBCSN, starting with Oct. 17 at the Devils. There's also Nov. 8 at San Jose, Nov. 22 vs Chicago, Nov. 29 at Boston, Dec. 12 at St. Louis and Jan. 22 at Chicago. Five of the six are road games, the only home one Jan. 22 vs the Blackhawks. Tampa Bay had seven last season, when it waas preseason Stanley Cup favorites.

The Blackhawks lead all teams with 17 nationally-televised games, with the Penguins and Flyers having 16. The Capitals, Red Wings and Bruins have 15. The Predators, which lost in the Stanley Cup Final to Pittsburgh, has seven.

 

 

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Bournival signed to 1-year, 2-way contract

Michael Bournival had two goal and an assist in 19 games with the Lightning last season.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Michael Bournival had two goal and an assist in 19 games with the Lightning last season.

The Lightning signed F Michael Bournival to a one-year, two-way contract Tuesday.

Bournival, 25, played in 19 games last season with the Lightning. He had two goals and an assist. He also played in 38 games with the Syracuse Crunch, scoring nine goals and assisting on 10 others. He had eight goals and 15 points in 22 games for the Crunch during the Calder Cup Playoffs.

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Some thoughts from D Girardi on joining Lightning

New Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Dan Girard. Girardi meets the Tampa Bay media for the first time since signing with the Lightning on July 1 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday morning.

Dirk Shadd | Times

New Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Dan Girard. Girardi meets the Tampa Bay media for the first time since signing with the Lightning on July 1 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday morning.

New Lightning D Dan Girardi met with the Tampa Bay media Monday morning. Here is some of what he said …

On his game after 11 years in New York with the Rangers:

“I feel 100 percent great. I feel hungrier than I have been in any other year. I feel like maybe you’ve been in one place so long you kind of get on cruise control and that might not be great for your career. I feel like what happened to me might have jump-started it.” 

On playing against the Lightning:

“I didn’t like them very much. They’re a fast team and very dynamic. They make you pay for your mistakes. I’m glad to be part of the team and not the enemy.”

  On being bought out by the Rangers after last season:

“Obviously it was a little bit surprising. You hear rumblings here and there throughout the year, but until it actually happens you’re a little bit surprised. It is what it is. It’s way in the past for me, even though it wasn’t that long ago. I’m way past my chapter in New York here. I’m looking forward to my time in Tampa, take advantage of it and do some good things here.” 

On those who say his best days are behind him:  …

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Newest Lightning F Chris Kunitz meets the Tampa Bay media

Dirk Shadd | Times

New Lightning forward Chris Kunitz met with the Tampa Bay media today. Here are some things he had to say about his new team:

On his style of play:

"I try to play a straightforward game, straight lines, try to be physical on the forecheck, turn pucks over, go to the front of the net, go around the battle areas, go through people rather than around them. I'm not a guy who's going to skate through the natural zone and make a bunch of fancy plays, but I'm going to try and be a guy that brings that physical aspect to the game and someone who makes it tough to play against."

On why he signed with the Lightning:

"The Lightning have an unbelievable chance to win a Stanley Cup and that's the reason why we came here."

On how close is this team to winning a Cup:

"I would say it's in those top three or four teams that everybody would agree they're just that close. When healthy, any team with this dynamic of a roster can beat everybody every single night. They have position players who can win a game on their own, like a goaltender or dynamic forwards or D-men who can step up. (We) have to be one of the favorite teams that can go in and try to make a run at it."

On what he expects his role to be: …

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The numbers on Lightning F Tyler Johnson's new contract

Tyler Johnson has a no-trade clause from 2018-2021.

Dirk Shadd | Times

Tyler Johnson has a no-trade clause from 2018-2021.

Here is more information on Lightning F Tyler Johnson’s 7-year, $35 million contract:

Year-by year breakdown: $5 million, $6.75 million, $5.5 million, $3.75 million, $5.5 million, $3.75 million, $4.75 million.

He has a no-trade clause from 2018 to 2021. After that, he has a modified no-trade clause that lists 20 teams he CAN be traded to.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Lightning now has a projected cap space of $8.68 million.

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Arbitration hearing dates set for Johnson and Palat

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18), left, and Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9), right, have arbitration hearings set, but the team can continue to negotiation deals with them until then.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18), left, and Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9), right, have arbitration hearings set, but the team can continue to negotiation deals with them until then.

Tyler Johnson has an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 20. Ondrej Palat’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for July 25.

Both players and the Lightning can negotiate up until the hearing.

Both Johnson and Palat are coming off three-year deals that paid $10 million. Times hockey writer Joe Smith wrote last week that both could receive contracts worth an average of $5 million annually.

The Lightning has $13.6 million of salary cap space to play with heading into this season.

Johnson played in 66 games last season, totaling 45 points on 19 goals and 26 assists.

Palat had 52 points (17 goals/35 assists) in 75 games.

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Lightning Strikes! podcast: Breaking down the Bolts' summer

The Lightning signed four-time Stanley Cup champion Chris Kunitz as a free agent.

Getty Images

The Lightning signed four-time Stanley Cup champion Chris Kunitz as a free agent.

The offseason has been busy for the Lightning, with the Jonathan Drouin trade, expansion draft and free agent signings of Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz. Joe Smith breaks down all the moves, talks about what lies ahead and answers your questions in our latest Lightning Strikes! podcast. Listen here:

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Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat file for arbitration

Ondrej Palat filed for arbitration by Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadline.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ondrej Palat filed for arbitration by Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadline.

As expected, the Lightning re-signed defenseman Jake Dotchin Wednesday to a bargain, two-year deal worth $812,500 annually.

That was the easy part.

The more challenging next step for Tampa Bay is coming to terms with its big name restricted free agents Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Both Johnson and Palat filed for arbitration by Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadline.

No need to set off any alarms. This move was expected. Johnson and Palat will each have a scheduled arbitration hearing for late July/early August where both their camps and the Lightning propose a contract for next season and argue their case, with an independent arbitrator ruling.

Keep in mind, the Lightning and Palat/Johnson can continue to negotiate until the hearings. It wouldn't be surprising if both Johnson and Palat sign long-term deals before this ever goes to arbitration, like Alex Killorn did last July. It doesn't sound like the parties are far apart. The Lightning has the money - $13.6 million in cap space - and wants to bring both Johnson and Palat back. …

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Lightning sign Jake Dotchin to two-year deal

The Lightning re-signed defenseman Jake Dotchin to a two-year deal.

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The Lightning re-signed defenseman Jake Dotchin to a two-year deal.

As expected, the Lightning re-signed defenseman Jake Dotchin to a two-year deal. The average annual value is $812,500.

That'll likely be a bargain for Tampa Bay, with Dotchin, 23, balancing out its blueline last season, emerging as a strong partner for Victor Hedman.

With Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek (one year, $800,000) signed, the Lightning's next order of business is signing RFAs Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Palat filed for arbitration by today's 5 p.m. deadline, not sure yet on Johnson. The Lightning, of course, could still sign both forwards before a hearing, like it did with Alex Killorn last July.

Developing: The Lightning is expected to announce a two-year, one-way deal with restricted free agent defenseman Jake Dotchin.

Dotchin, 23, helped balance out the blueline in the second half of last season, playing in his first 35 NHL games. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman provided needed grit, and was a strong partner for Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman.

With Dotchin signing soon, and fellow defenseman Slater Koekkoek signing a one-year, $800,000 deal Monday, the Lightning has two key restricted free agents left: center Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. …

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Lightning sign Chris Kunitz to one-year, $2 million deal

Chris Kunitz, 37, is a four-time Stanley Cup winner, providing some experience and grit up front.

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Chris Kunitz, 37, is a four-time Stanley Cup winner, providing some experience and grit up front.

The Lightning filled its need for another top-nine wing, signing veteran Chris Kunitz to a one-year, $2 million deal Saturday.

Kunitz, 37, is a four-time Stanley Cup winner, providing some experience and grit up front. After averaging 23 goals per season from 2010-2016, Kunitz racked up nine last season, though ranked second in hits with 216 hits. He's now the Lightning's most experienced playoff performer (161 games), followed by recently-acquired defenseman Dan Girardi (122).

With top wing free agent target Justin Williams (two years, $9 million with Carolina) off the board, Kunitz was another available veteran option.

More to come soon.

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Ryan Callahan believes hip issue 'completely behind me'

Lightning wing Ryan Callahan said he'll be ready for training camp, confident the hip issues that plagued him all season are "completely behind me."

"I feel great, no limitations at all," Callahan told the Times Saturday. "I think this is going to be the hungriest I've ever been, excited, ready to go, come in and make an impact."

Callahan, 32, didn't play much at all last season, limited to 18 games due to a right hip that continued to plague him after last summer's surgery to repair a torn labrum. While Callahan returned in late October, he couldn't shake the lingering soreness.

But a February follow-up procedure to clear up some scar tissue seems to have done the trick. Callahan was skating by the end of the season and continues to work out in Rochester, N.Y. He has three years remaining on a contract with a $5.8 million cap hit.

"It was the toughest year I've been through in my career, for sure," Callahan said. "So many ups and downs, having setbacks. At the end of the day, I look at it all and it makes me want to play even more and makes me even hungrier. It's been a while since I've been this excited for an upcoming season."

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Lightning signs Dan Girardi to two-year, $6 million deal

Dan Girardi spent the last 11 seasons with the Rangers, which bought out the final three years of his deal.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Dan Girardi spent the last 11 seasons with the Rangers, which bought out the final three years of his deal.

The Lightning didn't get the big fish on the free agent market, with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk signing with the Rangers, wing Justin Williams with the Hurricanes.

But Tampa Bay did get - at least so far - veteran right-shot defenseman Dan Girardi. Girardi, 33, who signed a two-year, $6 million deal Saturday, was pumped to start a "new chapter" with the Lightning.

And it sounds like Girardi will play a key role on the blueline.

"(GM Steve Yzerman) was very convincing," Girardi told the Times Saturday. "He told me I'd be playing good minutes with some good (defensive) pairs. Overall, I'm just super excited."

Girardi spent the last 11 seasons with the Rangers, which bought out the final three years of his deal (coincidentally, helping New York land Shattenkirk). While Girardi struggled last season, by most analytic metrics, he said a nagging ankle injury hampered him, and now he's finally healthy, "100 percent."

"Obviously when you're fighting different injuries, no one really plays 100 percent in this league," Girardi said. "When your ankle or your knee, that's something that's part of your skating everyday, it doesn't help. …

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What would Lightning get in Dan Girardi?

Dan Girardi, who was bought out by the Rangers, is expected to sign with Tampa Bay today.

AP photo

Dan Girardi, who was bought out by the Rangers, is expected to sign with Tampa Bay today.

For all of what we don't know yet - whether the Lightning will snag Kevin Shattenkirk or Justin Williams - it does sound like Tampa Bay may acquire defenseman Dan Girardi.

Girardi, 33, who was bought out by the Rangers, is reportedly expected to sign with Tampa Bay today. Not sure on how much, or for how long, though would think it's a short-term deal.

The veteran is coming off a down year, struggling in most analytic metrics, and a career-low 15 points. Girardi has been banged up, though, the past two seasons, including missing a month late in the season recovering from a right ankle wound suffered blocking a shot. The fact Girardi played in 759 of possible 764 games (including playoffs) from 2006-2014-15 no doubt took its toll.

So what would the Lightning be getting in Girardi?

"He's not a top-four guy anymore," said Rangers color analyst Joe Micheletti, a former NHL defenseman. "I don't think he's a top-four player, but he can help a team if the numbers are right and the minutes are right and the situation is right." …

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