TAMPA - The Lightning's new ownership isn't waiting for Tuesday to make a splash in the free-agent market.
Tampa Bay got a jump on the free-agent competition Saturday, acquiring the negotiating rights to pending unrestricted free agents Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts from Pittsburgh. In exchange for the three-day exclusive window to negotiate deals for both players, the Lightning gave up the fourth-round pick in the 2009 draft acquired from Dallas in the Brad Richards deal. The draft choice becomes a third-round pick if Malone is signed to a contract.
The two sides immediately went into discussions on trying to reach a new deal, although no breakthrough was reported as of late Saturday.
In acquiring Malone's rights, the Lightning have the chance to land one of the top players available on the free-agent market. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound left winger is a top-level power forward who had 27 goals for the Penguins in the regular season and added six goals and 16 points in 20 playoff games, helping Pittsburgh reach the Stanley Cup finals.
But earlier this month Malone said he would not discuss any new deal with any team that tried to acquire his rights, fully intending to test the open market where speculation is he would seek a contract with an annual salary in the $5 million range.
"It is a gamble; we'll see if it's worth it," Lightning owner Oren Koules said.
The Lightning might have an in, however.
New vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton was Malone's agent before getting out of the business last year. In addition, it is believed that Malone's father, Greg, could join the organization in some capacity. Greg Malone was a scout with Pittsburgh from 1988-2006 and was with Phoenix last season.
Roberts, who turned 42 last month, is a veteran of 21 seasons and won a Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989. He has 434 career goals in 1,194 games and still plays a gritty game while providing strong leadership in the locker room.
While Roberts recently has indicated a desire to play closer to his Ontario home, he did waive his no-trade clause to negotiate with the Lightning.