NHL free agency is underway, and while Tampa Bay Lightning fans wait for GM Steve Yzerman to hash out a new contract for restricted free agent Steven Stamkos, the team has made a few smaller moves.
The Lightning will have a new backup goaltender next season, as Mike Smith has left for Phoenix and Mathieu Garon has been signed to a two-year deal worth an estimated $2.6 million. Garon started 29 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and appeared in a total of 36, posting 10 wins (three by shutout), a 2.72 goals-against average and a save percentage of .901. Garon was also picked up late in the 2008-09 season by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he was Marc-Andre Fleury's backup on their way to winning the Stanley Cup. It's a nice value pickup for a goalie who should be capable enough to allow Guy Boucher to rest 42-year-old starter Dwayne Roloson more often.
Defenseman Matt Gilroy has agreed to a one-year deal with the Lightning. Gilroy will begin his third NHL season after a college career at Boston University, where he won the 2009 Hobey Baker Award as the top player in the NCAA. He played the last two seasons with the New York Rangers, appearing in 127 games. Gilroy can hopefully fill the Lightning's need for a fleeter defenseman, and his right-handed shot may be useful on the power play.
The Lightning's first-round pick in 2010, Brett Connolly, has also signed a three-year entry-level contract. Connolly has played four seasons in junior hockey for Prince George in the Western Hockey League. After the Lightning picked him sixth overall last year, Connolly scored 46 goals and 73 points in 59 games. As a 16-year-old in 2008-09, he scored 30 goals for Prince George, the first 16-year-old rookie to hit the 30-goal mark in the WHL in over a decade.
Yzerman also signed two players to two-way contracts, with both expected to play on the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals. Michel Ouellet should be familiar to Lightning fans; he played for the NHL club in 2007-08, scoring 17 goals. Ouellet spent the last two seasons playing in Germany and Switzerland. Also likely headed to Norfolk is J.T. Wyman, who played for the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs last season.