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The Lightning won’t blow it up: so what’s next this offseason?

We’ve probably seen the last of Ryan Callahan in Tampa.

Since arriving at the 2014 trade deadline, Callahan has been a model leader and veteran presence in the locker room. A player willing to sacrifice his body to block shots, win those hard-nosed board battles, kill penalties, and provide the intangibles that can’t be measured. What he hasn’t provided over the last couple of years is offensive production. A four-time 20-plus goal scorer in his career, Callahan’s age, injuries, and his style of play have combined to limit his offense. Earlier this season, the Lightning demoted him to the 13th forward spot. He’s also 34 years old and carries a $5.8 million cap hit for one more season.

With cap space at a premium, Callahan remains a strong candidate for either a buyout or being included in a trade along with someone else this summer. Per CapFriendly’s buyout calculator, if the Lightning bought out his deal, it would save them $3.133 million next season. That would go a long way towards giving them some cap relief to keep Point around.

Changes are coming to the blue line.

Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, and Jan Rutta all become unrestricted free agents on July 1. As of this writing, Stralman is 32, Coburn and Girardi are 34, and Rutta is 28. If you glanced at the Lightning’s cap situation a year ago, the changes on the back end were inevitable. That was the case even before the Bolts traded Slater Koekkoek for Rutta in January.

While Rutta provided serviceable depth, he’s unlikely to be back. Before the season, most predicted Stralman would stay after 2018-19, while Coburn and Girardi would be on the way out. Although that’s likely still the case with Girardi, Coburn was very solid and played some of his best hockey since arriving in Tampa in 2015. The decision to scratch him in the first two playoff games was puzzling.

Meanwhile, Stralman had issues staying healthy, playing in only 47 games. He also didn’t see any playoff action while battling injury problems. During his Lightning tenure, Stralman has typically been one of the team’s steadiest and consistent performers. However, his age and recent injury issues make him no guarantee to be brought back. If the Lightning keep anyone from this group of UFA’s, it’ll probably be either Stralman or Coburn at a reduced price on either a one or two-year deal. On the other hand, don’t be surprised if all four of them walk. Another depth defenseman could be considered in free agency, but there’s a chance we see an infusion of youth at the bottom of the defensive corps next season.

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