TAMPA — The Lightning fired up the hockey world on Sunday, pulling off three trades late in the evening.
Tampa Bay sent right wing Teddy Purcell to Edmonton for 24-year-old center Sam Gagner, then flipped Gagner to Arizona (formerly Phoenix) along with winger B.J. Crombeen in exchange for a sixth round draft pick in the 2015 draft. To cap off the night center Nate Thompson was dealt to Anaheim in exchange for a fourth and seventh round pick in 2015.
In dealing a three forwards and receiving only draft picks in exchange, Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman cleared roughly $5.6 million in salary cap space ahead of the start of free agency on Tuesday. Purcell carried a $4.5 million salary cap for the next two seasons while Crombeen, acquired from St. Louis in 2012, was heading into the final year of a two-year contract with a salary cap hit of $1.15 million. Thompson is entering the second year of a four-year extension he signed in 2012 that carries a cap hit of $1.6 million. He is still owed $4.9 million for the remaining three years.
The Lightning will retain 1/3 of Gagner’s salary $10 million as part of the deal, which means they will carry $1.665 of a salary cap hit for two years.
With the moves on Sunday, Tampa Bay now has approximately $8.6 million in cap space - which is actually closer $12 million due to Mattias Ohlund’s injury that allows the team to put him on long term injury list in October which adds $3.6 million in cap space - heading into the free agency period.
“We cleared out some cap space and cash to hopefully do something on July 1,’’ Yzerman said. “If not on July 1, for the future. We think the players that we have traded we can replace from within, if not through free agency. So we are in position right now, whether it’s first in free agency to try and improve our team. In order to do that I had to move cash and you have no idea how hard it is to move a contract right now.’’
This also frees up a roster spot for 2013 first-round pick Jonathan Drouin as well as 2010 first-round pick Brett Connolly and Richard Panik, both of whom would require waivers to be sent down to the minors this season.
Tampa Bay is expected to be on the lookout for a potential defenseman and is in need of a back up goaltender.
Some of the possible free agent targets on defense could include former Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle as well as Matt Niskanen or Anton Stralman, all of whom are right handed shots, as well as Christian Ehroff, who was bought out by Buffalo on Sunday.
“Just because we have cap space now and cash available we’re not going to act out of desperation, but certainly going to inquire,’’ Yzerman said.
Under the new CBA, teams have been allowed to speak to pending unrestricted free agents ahead of the signing period, and though no formal offers are permitted, sides are allowed to gauge interest and discuss the parameters of a possible deal. That window allows teams, and players, to get an idea of what it might take to get a deal done shortly after the signing window opens at noon on Tuesday.
“We’ve reached out and had contact with a lot of free agents at different positions,’’ Yzerman said. “We have an idea of what the market will be and what they will get, this just gives us the chance to find out who is interested and talk to players and agents and let them know we are interested and sell them a little bit on our organization and where they would fit in.’’
Purcell, 28, had a breakout year with Tampa Bay in 2011-12 when he registered a career high 24 goals and 65 points. But by the end of last season, Purcell had dropped out of favor and was moved to the fourth line and finished with just 12 goals and 42 points 81 games.
“He’s a very skilled player and has been a very good player for us,’’ Yzerman said. “I love the guy, he’s a popular teammate, a really good guy and I think everybody - players, coaches and management - are going to miss him. But with some younger players coming in, we need to move out some money to give us the opportunity to do other things and we had to move Teddy’s contract to do that.’’
The Lightning rescheduled a late-season game against Montreal for early in the season.
When the NHL schedule was released last week, the Lightning were scheduled to play the Canadiens on April 7 as part of a three-game homestand to close the regular season.
That game will now be played on Oct. 13 a part of a four-game homestand to start the regular season.
The game had to be rescheduled because of a conflict with the NCAA women’s basketball championship game on the same date. Tampa was awarded the 2015 Final Four in November 2008.
Neither the team nor the league would confirm the change of date, but the game was listed on the team’s official website, which is run in part by the league office. The league is expected to make the official announcement today.
Tampa Bay will open the regular season at home on Oct. 9 against Florida. The Lightning host Ottawa on Oct. 11, then play back-to-back against Montreal on Oct. 13 and New Jersey on Oct. 14 before departing for a five-game trip that starts in Vancouver on Oct. 18.
Instead of a three-game homestand to end the season, Tampa Bay will close with games April 9 against New Jersey and April 11 against Boston.
Restricted free agents
Tampa Bay has until today to issue qualifying offers to its pending restricted free agents.
General manager Steve Yzerman already stated that goaltender Anders Lindback, who made $2.2 million last season, will not receive an offer, making him an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday. Yzerman has said that Lindback could be brought back at a lower salary.
The Lightning still have nine restricted free agents unsigned — Connolly, Panik, Andrej Sustr, Keith Aulie, Cody Kunyk, Dmitry Korobov, Philippe Paradis, Geoff Walker and Charles Landry.
Connolly, Panik, Sustr, Kunyk and Korobov are virtual locks to be retained, while Paradis is expected to be brought back as well.
Aulie, acquired from Toronto for Carter Ashton in 2012, is a question mark after Tampa Bay acquired Jason Garrison from Vancouver on Friday. Landry and Walker have been informed they will not be extended a new contract.
The free-agent market opens at noon on Tuesday, and the Lightning will be in the market for a goaltender to back up Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, who is coming off surgery to his right wrist and missed the playoffs with a dislocated left elbow.