Now for Part 2 of this week’s mailbag, which was pretty full. Also, there is no literal mailbag. It’s all a lie.
Do you see Vasilevskiy as the backup in TB or the starter in SYR next season? (@boltsjolts)
I can’t see him in Tampa for a few reasons: Lindback will likely be under contract and Vasilevskiy needs games. Give him and Gudlevskis a year in Syracuse to split games and compete against each other while furthering their development. The only way I see Vasilevskiy in Tampa is if there’s an injury, and even then it could be a situation where he and Gudlevskis split as the No. 3 so one is getting games in Syracuse. Stay patient for at least another year. Bishop’s an unrestricted free agent in two off-seasons and who knows what the plan will be. The important thing is TB has options.
What do you think the lightning will do at the deadline?(@tfernandez2190)
I maintain that if they do anything moderate-sized, it will be a second pair defenseman as Sami Salo  insurance. Preferably a righty. It’s possible they go without as the price will be high and Yzerman loves his prospects. I also think they may try to move a contract, especially if it’s moving a vet winger for a low-cost vet faceoff man who can play on bottom lines. Stamkos returning should help at the dot, however. It’s a need.
do you think that Brett Connolly  gets another call up this season? (@jarebear81787)
Yes, I do. He’s playing his way back into the conversation. I still think that if a forward prospect gets traded he’s the most likely to move, but he’s playing so well he could bump someone down to the ‘Cuse.
Think Richard Panik  will end up in Syracuse? (@jduda0621)
I don’t know what more Cooper – aka the rookie whisperer – can do. He got Panik to this point in his career, but things have certainly stalled. TB fans who didn’t see last year’s Calder Cup finals don’t know what they’re missing this year with this version of Richard Panik. He was a dominant player last year. This year it’s almost as if he’s hurt physically or mentally. Panik has served popcorn for a decent amount of games and has seen limited minutes at best lately. Hopefully an appearance for Slovakia jump starts his confidence, because when it’s going, it’s like what you’re seeing from Kucherov right now, but with a physical presence.
Do you think Kucherov has earned the right to stay when Stamkos returns? Is Panik the odd one out? (@kennyp1021)
I do. His defensive play has been near jaw-dropping when you think of his journey to this point as a more complete player. That’s what Cooper said would keep him in the NHL. Kucherov on the ice means there’s an excellent chance for a scoring opportunity every shift. He’s also the QB from the half-wall on PP2. I think he stays.
Do you think Korobov will join the Russian invasion of Tampa and if so where do you see him fitting in? (@K_Barber9
Belarusian defenseman Dmitri Korobov should be in the conversation for time, yes. He has to get a renewed contract first and want to stay in North America. He has guaranteed KHL time if he wants to return home.
We know Sami Salo is unlikely to return as a re-signed unrestricted free agent. We know the following will likely be under contract and unable to go through waivers: Hedman, Carle, Gudas, Brewer, Barberio, Cote. There’s a spot or two there, but the competition will be among Sustr (ahead of Korobov), Koekkoek (different type), and maaaaaaybe Keith Aulie  if you don’t believe the trade rumors and you think Tampa Bay qualifies him as a restricted free agent (no sure thing). It’s an uphill climb for Korobov. I hope he stays in North America, at least on a 1-year deal. Both sides could decline.
What D pairings do you project for the majority of next season? (@jefferyborislow)
Related to the question above… because it switches it’s just so hard to tell. Carle, Hedman, Brewer primarily play the left side. Those three should be locked. Hedman will switch over at times, especially with Carle as a partner, but the two aren’t normally together. Gudas is a right sider, Sustr has played mostly right, Barberio is right side, and Cote has been both – but mostly left as the 7. Koekkoek can play both, but as a lefty shot he’s probably better off on the left and isn’t guaranteed to be in Tampa. Korobov is a lefty, too. So, to build on the last question, there could be an acquisition who could push everyone back. Depending on that player’s effectiveness, Gudas could be first or second pair.
At this moment with the present projected roster, I’d say Carle-Gudas, Hedman-Sustr, Brewer-Barberio, Cote.
Do the Lightning target overage prospects more than other teams in NHL Draft? (@jason_garcia)
I don’t know of any official count, but TB certainly hasn’t been shy to take an overage guy under Yzerman. I know he takes as many as any Tampa GM before him, with only Dudley coming close, and that’s because Dudley chose all those overage Russians that never came over.
For those who don’t know, overage draftees are players who have already been through the draft. It’s becoming more common across the league as players make moves to become more visible (Gudas, Tanner Richard ) or develop later (Paquette). Yzerman has proven that he’ll take anyone if it improves the organizational roster.
any chance we might see a bolt prospect prospective roster for bolts next season? (@usfbolts91
Here are the legitimate candidates as it stands right now:
Forwards (for 13 spots):
Locks (waivers) – Stamkos, St. Louis, Purcell (4.5 mil contract – tradable?), Filppula, Malone (4.5 mil contract – tradable?), Thompson, Crombeen
Near locks (can pass, but in NHL): Killorn, Johnson, Palat, Drouin (NHL or Q; no question it’s NHL), Kucherov
Bubble: Brown (probably near lock), Panik, Connolly, Namestnikov
So, that’s 16, or 15 if you drop Vladdy off the list. There are 13 spots available, with Crombeen really the only habitual scratch option. Something’s gotta give.
My wild guess: Connolly is moved for a defenseman as early as the deadline this year, Purcell is moved to a team needing offensive help and money to stay above the cap floor. Again I’m looking to Nashville, or maybe even the Panthers. Purcell is a UFA after two more seasons, so they’re not on the hook for too long if they're worried about long-term commitment, but it's not a slam dunk. It will diminish his trade value (he has no trade restrictions in his contract like Malone), however.
That gives you (rough lines):
Lindback (logical guess: re-signed RFA to 1-year deal)
Notes: Drouin can play center and Filppula can play wing, but it may not start out that way. Brown needs to be on the third line, but I can't find a way to get him there just yet. I'm assuming Panik rounds back into form. Tyrell is an RFA, and *if* they re-sign him, it will be for Syracuse and extra bottom line depth. There’s just no room for Namestnikov yet, though he’ll be knocking on the door. How loudly? Who do you move to create room, and it can’t be fourth line. Ultimately, I think Koekkoek makes a run but starts in Syracuse. Definitely out are Pyatt (UFA), Salo (UFA).