Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning Get A Big Jump On The Free-Agent Market
TAMPA - The start of free agency is like Christmas morning in July around the NHL. Only the Lightning sneaked into the closet, shook the packages and ripped the wrapping off a couple of presents before they could be put underneath the tree. Tampa Bay got a jump on the market Monday, making official the signings of forwards Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts, acquired from Pittsburgh on Saturday, and Vinny Prospal, who was re-acquired from Philadelphia on June 18. And with the clock ticking to today's noon opening of the frenzied free-agent market, the Lightning were still holding out hope late Monday that Brian Rolston, acquired from Minnesota late Sunday, would join the fold."We're still just waiting to hear from him; it's a big deal for him to think over," Lightning co-owner Len Barrie said late Monday. "We've put the full-court press on." That recruiting job was aided by, among others, Vinny Lecavalier, new coach Barry Melrose, Lightning assistant coach Rick Tocchet, Roberts and Wes Walz, a former teammate of Rolston in Minnesota who is now a Tampa Bay assistant coach. "I just tried to tell him a little bit about the town and a little bit about the team," Lecavalier said of his conversation with Rolston. "He's got a big decision to make and I just wanted to let him know all the positives there are in Tampa." Getting Rolston, one of the more sought-after free agents available, would be the bow on the top of a busy weekend for the Lightning. "If we can get Rolston signed, it will be like hitting a grand slam. We've hit the triple with Malone, Roberts and Prospal, now we're hoping to get the grand slam," Barrie said. Regardless of Rolston's decision, Barrie said the team doesn't plan to sit on its hands when the market opens this afternoon. He said there is at least one more move the team would like to make, which could possibly be a goaltender to compete with Mike Smith and Karri Ramo for a spot on the roster or another forward to fill out the top three lines. Tampa Bay certainly didn't wait to make a splash, getting Malone to agree to a seven-year, $31.5 million contract that will pay him $6 million in the first year. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound left wing was not available for comment when the deal was announced, but his presence on the ice will be evident next season. "He fits our strategic plan of adding quality players with a warrior mentality," the team said in a statement. Malone, 28, scored 27 goals with Pittsburgh during the regular season and added 16 points, including six goals, in 20 playoff games, helping the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup finals. He has scored 20 or more goals in three of his four NHL seasons. Roberts had been rumored to be seeking to play closer to his home in southern Ontario, but the 42-year-old waived his no-trade clause to speak with Tampa Bay and ended up signing a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.25 million with a bonus clause that reportedly will pay him $10,000 for each game he plays. Roberts was not available for comment Monday night. Prospal had agreed to the terms of a four-year deal worth $14 million last week. With Prospal in his native Czech Republic, the final paperwork wasn't finalized until Monday. Tampa Bay also made a minor move in acquiring 26-year-old defenseman Janne Niskala from the Flyers for a sixth-round pick in the 2009 draft. Niskala, who was acquired by Philadelphia from Nashville last week, scored 19 goals and 44 points in 80 games with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League last season.
Reporter Erik Erlendsson can be reached at (813) 259-7835 or [email protected]