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Target of Opportunity: Tampa Bay

There's an interesting write-up by St. Petersburg Times journalist Damian Cristodero on Tampa Bay's budget situation and their likely solution (hat-tip to Spector).

Here are some choice segments:

A little more than a month before training camp, the Lightning has a salary cap number of $55.66-million, very close to the limit of $56.7-million. This, of course, is not where the team will end up. Tampa Bay has, hypothetically, spoken in the past of a payroll anywhere between $45-million and $48-million.

For now, though, what the team is looking at is trades. Though things have been quiet the past few weeks, vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton said that has not diminished the team's desire to deal. Neither Lawton nor Koules would talk about specific names, but it seems certain Jussi Jokinen, Michel Ouellet and Jason Ward are being dangled.

Given the team's cap number, it is much more likely to swap players for minor-league depth or draft choices.

Ignoring guys who just signed contracts (Lecavalier, Malone, Vrbata, etc.), and Ryan Craig (who evidently won't be moved), here are the forwards who could potentially be available, ranked by salary:

Martin St. Louis - 5.25M/yr for 3 seasons
Jeff Halpern - 2M/yr for 2 seasons
Jussi Jokinen - 1.81M/yr for 1 season
Michel Ouellet - 1.25M/yr for 1 season
Chris Gratton - 1.25M/yr for 1 season
Evgeny Artyukhin - .95M/yr for 2 seasons

St. Louis would be of interest in a lot of places, but I don't think he'd be worth the cost of acquiring, and I'm not convinced that Tampa Bay wants to move him, either. Jeff Halpern would be a great fit on the Oilers (right-handed shot, face-off ace, has a history of handling tough minutes, reasonably priced, young veteran, ex-captain at the NHL level, etc.) and if available would be a player the Oilers should look at acquiring. The problem is that he scored 10 goals in 19 games for Tampa Bay after coming over from Dallas (riding a ridiculous shooting percentage) and fills the same needs for the Lightning and thus is probably unavailable at this time. He could be a nice deadline acquisition, though.

Jokinen and Ouellet both play on the wing, where the Oilers have a ton of top-nine options already, but either could be a nice pickup for a team like Vancouver or Calgary (Ouellet in particular; he looked nice playing tough-ish minutes last season). I also can't see the Oilers being terribly interested in Evgeny Artyukhni, who I'd imagine (off the top of my head) winds up in the KHL this season.

That leaves only Chris Gratton. He's a right-handed shot, adds some nice things (faceoffs, team toughness, veteran presence at centre) that the Oilers are missing. He's played middling minutes for lousy Southeast division teams the last couple of seasons; he looked not great in the role in Tampa Bay but did some nice things in 2006-07 for Florida. He's reasonably priced, and on a short-term deal to boot, and I don't know that there's a spot for him in Tampa Bay. He'd be a nice fit between Cole/Pisani, and could help this team make the playoffs in 2008-09. Best of all, it wouldn't surprise me if he'd be available for a second-tier prospect or a castoff.

The article mentions that the Lightning are looking for minor leaguers/draft picks; guys who don't cost much. Looking at their roster, a cheap 6th/7th defenseman might be something they'd bite on to. Between Roy, Hrabel, Wild, and Bisaillon on the defensive end and guys like Jacques, O'Marra, Reddox and McDonald up front, the Oilers have plenty of disposable prospects. It might even be worth a Vande Velde or Chorney to get a guy like Halpern.