TAMPA - For two days, the NHL opened up a window for free agents to be courted by teams. Teams were free to bring players to town for face-to-face meetings to make a pitch for a player's services or simply reach out to agents to see if there was mutual interest. The free agency period doesn't officially open until today at noon, when players are able to sign contracts. But the NHL provided the chance for teams to reach out, get a feel for how things might play out and make preliminary plans on how to round out their rosters heading into the 2013-14 season. Though this sort of courting period has been used by the NBA for a number of years, this is the first time it has been implemented by the NHL. This year, the period was two days. In future years, the open period will start just after the draft, allowing for more time for discussions to be held.
But the league has been adamant, even sending out a reminder on Thursday, that the period does not allow for negotiating or for offers to be made, and only allowing for interviews. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, like most of his colleagues around the league, was on the phone starting Wednesday morning, with a forward foremost on the shopping list. Tampa Bay has a hole at No. 2 center after the buyout of Vinny Lecavalier, and there are options to fill that role, including Detroit's Valtteri Filppula, Toronto's Tyler Bozak or Mikael Grabovski and Washington's Mike Ribeiro. Finding out if they fit was part of the early courting process, but it depends on the contract length and salary demands. "There are some forwards out there in free agency that are interesting," Yzerman said. "But if we are going to bring in somebody long-term for lots of money, it's going to come from a trade." Should that cost be too high, the Lightning have options to fill the role from within the organization, notably American Hockey League MVP Tyler Johnson or Alex Killorn, who played on the wing for the Lightning after his call-up last season but played center at Harvard. "We have a lot of young guys coming," Yzerman said. "We really want to give some of our young players the chance to play this year, they have been very successful at the American League for two years. "We have to give them an opportunity in the NHL." firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7835 Twitter: @erlendssontbo