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Champs Promise to be Younger Written by Laci Bloomers - September 4th, 2011

Fresh off a Stanley Cup victory, the offseason rebuilt began for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The shocking retirement of blue-line ace Brian Rafaski left a huge hole on the back end, and a dozen free agents heading into the off-season left a bunch of question marks for the club.

Fast forward to the weekend before Free Agency opens, and the club does not have a lot of holes to fill.

Developing stars Jonathan Toews, Jordan Eberle, Karl Alzner and Leland Irving were all resigned.  Returning blue-line veterans Tomas Kaberle and Kurtis Foster signed new contracts.  Tim Jackman, who was solid in the playoffs, and up-and-coming D-man Brendan Mikkleson opted to resign, as did Trevor Smith, Tyler Ruegsegger, Mike Brodeur and Stefan Meyer. 

Entry level contracts were offered to centers Mitch Wall and Adam Henrique, wingers Nicholas Larson and Lance Bouma, and defensemen Jeff Foss, Michael Stone and Braden Birch.

Three subtle offseason trades have added some depth.  Winger Eric Fehr and goaltender Tyson Sexsmith were added in a deal with the Avalanche for Macon center Riley Holzapfel and a 2011 3rd round pick.  Fehr will help out the Bolts this year, while Sexsmith will vie for a starting job in Macon.

The two clubs doubled up as Kyle Wellwood was seent to Colorado for prospect Yasin Casse and a late 2013 pick.  Casse has had injury woes the past two seasons but has a goalscorer's touch and plenty of speed and skill.

Finally, after being signed to a new 2 year contract, Nuk Antropov was sent to the Kings, with Blake Comeau returning to the Lightning.  Also coming to the club was 2011 draft pick John Gaudreau, who was highly touted by Lightning GM Dave Normoyle.  Gaudreau is small but there is not denying his tremendous skill level.  "Possibly the most skilled player in the Draft" indicated the club's GM.

So, headed to Free Agency, other than some possible upgrades, the team might only have one forward position to fill if they can.

Potential projected roster for the 2011-12 season could look something like this:

Ryan Malone - Jonathan Toews - Rick Nash
Steve Sullivan - David Moss - Jordan Eberle
Brandon Prust - Daymond Langkow - Blake Comeau
Mark Cullen - ??? - Eric Fehr

Mark Giordano - Tomas Kaberle
Kurtis Foster - Douglas Murray
Karl Alzner - Adfam Pardy

Miikka Kipprusoff
Mike Brodeur / Leland Irving

There is flexibility in the line-up, and a solid forward at any position would be a great addition.  The club has some money to spend yet, so the reality of a Top 6 forward being added, resulting in Eberle and Comeau flanking Langkow on the 3rd line, is quite possible.

In any event, the club is looking forward to another solid season as they begin defense of their championship.

- Laci Bloomers reporting -

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