Tampa moves may signal Ehrhoff interest 

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
11:30
AM ET
EhroffFrederick Breedon/Getty ImagesAfter being bought out, Christian Ehrhoff has risen near the top of many teams' shopping lists.
Initially unable to finalize a deal to send Sam Gagner to the Arizona Coyotes from Tampa Bay, Arizona GM Don Maloney came up with a plan with Steve Yzerman.

“I said, ‘I’m going to have a beer. You have a glass of wine,’” Maloney said. “If you can come up with an idea, call me back.”

Internally, the Coyotes concluded that if the Tampa Bay Lightning could retain enough salary on Gagner, he was the guy they wanted. But they couldn’t do it otherwise.

A determined Yzerman made it happen. He kept one-third of Gagner's salary; that is better than buying him out, which was likely the other option.

And now, the question for Tampa Bay is this: What was all of this for?

With the trades, the Lightning have an additional $5.65 million in cap space after sending Teddy Purcell to Edmonton, Gagner and B.J. Crombeen to the Coyotes and Nate Thompson to the Anaheim Ducks. According to CapGeek.com, the Lightning now have $9.5 million in cap space, and that’s before they put Mattias Ohlund on long-term injured reserve. In October, the Lightning will have even more flexibility.

It makes the Lightning one of the most fascinating teams to watch when free agency finally opens on Tuesday at noon ET.

A couple of factors may provide clues as to exactly what the Lightning are looking for. Colleague Pierre LeBrun reported that the Lightning made a push for the No. 1 overall pick before the draft in Philadelphia. It was the package that came closest to making Panthers GM Dale Tallon pull the trigger.

The prize of the draft was potential franchise defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who would give the Lightning a pretty darn good one-two punch with Victor Hedman and complements his style quite well.

The other factor, and it might have been absolutely coincidental, is that the Lightning cleared their cap space on the same day that defenseman Christian Ehrhoff became available.

The Sabres processed the buyout on the 31-year-old defenseman, and he immediately joined Matt Niskanen, Anton Stralman and Dan Boyle as the best defensemen available in free agency. For a weak class, those are pretty good options.