Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning sign defenseman Brewer to four-year deal
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Before Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman sat down at the team's draft table Friday night, he spent time sitting in meetings with player agents regarding some of Tampa Bay's pending free agents. While top priority Steven Stamkos has yet to sign on the dotted line, Yzerman can cross Eric Brewer's name off the list. The Lightning re-signed Eric Brewer to a four-year contract worth a reported $15.4 million, which equates to an annual salary cap hit of $3.85 million. The 32-year-old defenseman was acquired from the St. Louis Blues in February in exchange for prospect Brock Beukeboom and a third-round pick in this year's draft. After acclimating to his new team and stepping right into a top-two defensemen role, it was clear Brewer was a good fit. His performance in the postseason, when he helped lead Tampa Bay to the Eastern Conference finals, proved his value to the team."Quality defensemen are hard to come by, and we feel that we absolutely needed that guy on our team," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "Not only because of what he does on the ice, but because of his leadership." With that in mind, Yzerman had re-signing Brewer to a new deal before July 1 one of the team's top priorities once the season ended. Brewer would have been an unrestricted free agent on that date. "When we made the trade, our hope and intent was to be able to sign him for the future, so we weren't thinking about it just for the playoff run, so we are glad to get it done before July 1," Yzerman said. "In acquiring him, we felt we needed another guy that could match up defensively against other team's top players and we felt he did that real well, stepped up on the power play and did a good job there for us. He's a veteran guy that knows how to play, he's a defenseman that can play 20-plus minutes against the other team's top players, and those are hard to find." Had Brewer, who set career highs with nine goals and a plus-6 rating in 76 games, hit the open market next week, it's likely he could have earned a bigger contract in a bidding war between other teams. Brewer was looking for more than just a big payday, citing the comfortable surroundings for his family and a chance to win as primary reasons for wanting to stay with Tampa Bay. "First and foremost, your family has to be excited about it and happy to be where you are contemplating, and that's clearly the case for us," Brewer said. "From there, you are looking at the hockey end of it and we are happy with that, and everything else from that is kind of a bonus depending on what you are looking for or not looking for. The big picture was very big for us." Coming within a game of reaching the Stanley Cup final certainly didn't hurt. "I think the hockey, clearly the hockey program there is very good and I liked the way things are done and the way that we play," Brewer said. "I think the group that we have is a good mix of players, as a group I think the more we all get to play together the better we are going to get, and try to win the Cup." To get to that point, however, there is another big piece of the puzzle without a contract approaching the start of free agency next week. Star center Steven Stamkos, who leads the league with 96 goals over the past two seasons, is scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1 and any team can present on offer sheet in the hopes of landing the 21-year-old rising star. Tampa Bay would have the right to match any offer or receive four first-round picks as compensation. Yzerman has stated that the Lightning are prepared to match any offer, and there is no scenario in which he doesn't foresee Stamkos back with the Lightning next season. Still, without their top young star signed to a new deal, the threat of losing Stamkos remains a slight possibility. "I would say that ... he's probably not going to go anywhere," Brewer said of Stamkos. "I might be talking out of turn and it's certainly not my place to say, but he's a very good player and he might not be going anywhere.' Of the discussions with Stamkos, who is represented by the same agency as Brewer, Yzerman said, "We continue to talk. We've got one down and we'll work on Steven and other players as well." One of those players is Sean Bergenheim, but with free agency less than a week away, it appears the bridge in negotiations is too wide to be able to reach an agreement before free agency begins. "I've met with Sean's agent, Todd (Diamond), as recently as (Friday) morning and I understand their position and where they are coming from. I don't know that there is anything I can say other than we are in different ... I'm not real optimistic at this time that we are going to be able reach any agreement."