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Lightning Free Agency: Sean Bergenheim To Panthers, Simon Gagne To Kings, Brad Richards To Rangers

After Sean Bergenheim's unexpected playoff run (nine goals in 16 games after only scoring 14 in 80 regular-season games), and with the Lightning needing to save their dollars for upcoming contracts for Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, it seemed inevitable that the unrestricted free agent would end up leaving. Bergenheim was scooped up by the Florida Panthers in free agency yesterday, receiving a four-year, $11 million contract as the team spent freely to try and reach the NHL's mandated salary-cap floor. Lower-line players can be relatively easy to replace, but in this case it may be difficult to come up with a third-line combination that was as effective as Bergenheim, Dominic Moore, and Steve Downie were during the postseason. At that price, though, the Lightning had to let Bergenheim go.

Simon Gagne will not return to the Lightning after the Los Angeles Kings signed him to a two-year deal worth $7 million. Gagne played one season in Tampa Bay, scoring 40 points in 63 regular-season games and 12 points in the playoffs. He has a long injury history, though, and it may have contributed to the Lightning's decision not to re-sign him. Gagne will join up with Mike Richards, who was recently traded to Los Angeles by the Philadelphia Flyers. The two played together for the Flyers from 2005-10.

Also, the Lightning were forced to end their pursuit of free-agent center Brad Richards after the bidding went over their budget. Richards started his NHL career in Tampa Bay and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP in 2004 when the Lightning took home the Stanley Cup. Facing a money crunch and under pressure from incoming ownership, Richards was traded to the Dallas Stars in 2008, who then went through their own ownership/money crisis. This morning, word came out that the New York Rangers had signed Richards to a nine-year contract worth $60 million. (Rumor has it the contract is heavily front-loaded, although no concrete details have surfaced yet.) There was hope that Richards might accept a "hometown discount" to return to Tampa Bay and reunite with old teammates Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Pavel Kubina. But when the difference could have been in the eight-figure range, it makes sense that Richards instead chose to reunite with his old coach, John Tortorella, in New York.

(UPDATE: TSN's Gord Miller has the year-by-year breakdown of Richards's contract with the Rangers, and as expected it is seriously front-loaded.)

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.