Lightning 'very interested' in bringing Peter Budaj back
There are certainly important tasks this summer for the Lightning in terms of keeping its own, with Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat all restricted free agents.
But one position Tampa Bay needs to fill is backup goaltender for No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy. And if everything works out right, it could be the same one who ended the season with the Lightning, veteran Peter Budaj.
Budaj, 34, is an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"We were very pleased with the finish to the season Peter had, we'd very muuch be interested in bringing him Peter back," GM Steve Yzerman said Thursday on 620-AM. "As the offseason winds down here, we get closer to July 1, we'll figure out what wer'e going to do for backup and goaltenders in Syracuse."
The Lightning has prospect Connor Ingram expected to join AHL Syracuse next season as his first year pro. Mike McKenna, acquired from the Panthers at the trade deadline, is an unrestricted free agent. Kristers Gudlevskis is a restricted free agents.
So decisions have to be made. For what it's worth, Budaj told me at the end of the season he'd like to return to Tampa Bay. And several teammates went out of their way to rave how well Budaj worked with Vasilevskiy. Could be a good fit.
Yzerman also touched on a couple other subjects during his appearance on 620-AM.
*Yzerman has been impressed by how Vasilevskiy has played for Russia at the World Championships, picking up three shutouts so far. "We think we have a young man who has a chance to be a really, really goood starting goaltender for a long time," Yzerman said. "He's got the athletic ability, the drive to be. He just needs experience."
*Yzerman didn't know the status of Vladislav Namestnikov, who got hurt blocking a shot for Russia at the Worlds. "I don't expect the Russian Federation to give us a call," Yzerman quipped.
*Fellow Russian Nikita Kucherov has also starred at Worlds, and coming off a 40-goal season, his price tag will only increase in two years, when he's a free agent again. Kucherov has a cap hit of $4.76 million. "We'll have to make sure we have the cap space available, assuuming he continues on the career path he's on," Yzerman said on 620-AM Thursday. "I expect him to be even better. We'll be prepared for that when the time comes."
Does Yzerman see Kucherov in the same vein as Steven Stamkos? "Stammer has done it year after year," Yzerman said. "Kucherov is on way to that level. We see him as an elite forward in the NHL just like Stammer."