NEWARK, N.J. - While the NHL draft proved the main topic of the weekend, former Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier turned out to be a popular figure throughout the weekend.
Lecavalier, who was bought out of the final seven years of his contract by Tampa Bay on Thursday, is now an unrestricted free agent. Though he cannot sign a contract until free agency begins Friday, he is permitted to speak with teams.
So Lecavalier flew to New York to spend time with agent Kent Hughes and met with more than a handful of teams including Anaheim, Detroit, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, St. Louis, Calgary, Toronto, Boston and Montreal among others. There are additional teams that also reached out to express interest, and Lecavalier and is expected to narrow the choices early in the week. The 33-year-old returned to his home in Montreal on Sunday to mull over the options, narrow the choices and ultimately make a decision on what team he will play for after spending 14 season with Tampa Bay.
Seeing the attention was no surprise to Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper.
"I said, when all this buyout goes through, the line to get Vinny will be the longest, and deservedly so,'' Cooper said.
No blue line picks
Tampa Bay failed to select a defenseman with any of their six picks, which wasn't exactly by design.
But with college free agent Andrej Sustr, 2011 first-round pick Slater Koekkoek, 2011 draftees Dylan Blujus and Jake Dotchin along with Nikita Nestorov, Luke Witkowski, Dmitry Korobov and Artem Sergeen in the fold, there is not an internal sense of urgency to go off their scouting list just to select a defenseman.
"We think we are very deep, actually, in defensemen,'' Lightning scouting director Al Murray said. "We have a lot of good, young prospects. ... So we don't see a shortage, we don't see a lack of depth. In the draft you do like to balance your positioning out a little bit so you don't wind up going short down the road. But at this point we feel comfortable (prospect wise) in all three forward positions, on defense as well as in goal.''
Playing under Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy can be intimidating.
But Lightning second-round pick Adam Erne enjoyed the opportunity, playing two seasons under Roy - who is now the head coach in Colorado - with Quebec in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
"It's tough, he's a great guy and a great coach, but he is tough on you, he's really intense, but I can't say enough good things about him," Erne said.
The Lightning have spent draft week interviewing potential assistant coaching prospects to add to Cooper's staff, which already has added veteran coach Rick Bowness as an associate coach. Steve Thomas is expected to be retained and serve as the team's eye in the sky from the pressbox. The contracts for goaltender coach Frantz Jean and video coach Nigel Kirwan expired at midnight Sunday, but both are expected to be retained.
That means whatever coach is added, and it is expected to be somebody with NHL experience, will serve on the bench alongside Cooper and Bowness.
"Something will go down here, soon,'' Cooper said. "We have a great group of guys, and I'm looking to add not subtract.''
Nuts and Bolts
The Lightning will announce today that they have sent out qualifying offers to their restricted free agents, a list that includes D Brendan Mikkelson, G Pat Nagle, RW J.T. Brown and RW Benoit Pouliot. General manager Steve Yzerman did not say who would be receiving their qualifying offers, but did confirm an earlier report that Mikkelson will not be retained and will become an unrestricted free agent. ... Tampa Bay will hold their prospect camp, which will include top-two picks Jonathan Drouin and Erne, starting Saturday in Brandon. ... Next year's draft will be held June 27-28 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. ... The Lightning announced Thursday RW Mike Angelidis has been re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract. Angelidis was captain of Tampa Bay's farm team in Syracuse this past season.