St. Petersburg Times
Tampa Bay Lightning

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Trading game can begin anew with the draft fast approaching

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

Slowly, the names are trickling out; names of established players who may be on the trading block and others who will test the market for unrestricted free agents.

General manager Jay Feaster is taking note. He has the No. 4 draft pick to dangle as trade bait and a mind-set, as he said last week, to "get better and win right now."

The names are intriguing. The Flames seem willing to deal defenseman Derek Morris. The Bruins haven't denied rumors they might part with right wing Sergei Samsonov. New Jersey's Bobby Holik and Pittsburgh's Robert Lang have said they want to see what the unrestricted market will bear. It is a tantalizing group and it will grow larger. The question is, can the Lightning craft a package, and does it have the will to pay a player, or players, who can energize the team dynamic?

"It's about saying what are our needs and what players work and which players don't," Feaster said, "and working in a targeted fashion."

That is all Feaster will say on the subject lest he risk a tampering charge. So we must speculate.

Let's start by saying a major free-agent signing is as probable as Tampa Bay winning the Stanley Cup. Holik will be way too expensive. Lang will be less so and is a character guy represented by former Lightning defenseman Petr Svoboda. But he plays center, where Tampa Bay is fairly deep, and is much better with a starlike supporting cast.

Feaster likely will find a backup goalie in free agency. Names to watch are Philadelphia's Neil Little and Washington's Craig Billington. Little, 30, who made $500,000 last season and is five years younger than Billington, makes a lot more sense.

Trading makes more sense for the Lightning to gain an impact player because giving up contracts to get one controls payroll.

Morris would be a catch despite a $2.5-million salary, which is why the Bruins are said to be offering Samsonov. Morris, a rugged 6-foot, 210-pounder, will be 24 next season and had four goals and 30 assists and was minus-4 while averaging 24:40 of ice time.

The Flames want a scoring forward and that is where things get tough; Tampa Bay also needs offense. But the Lightning has the No. 4 draft pick, which would be a five-spot upgrade for Calgary.

And if you expect resurgent seasons from Vinny Lecavalier, Fredrik Modin, Martin St. Louis and Shane Willis, maybe you build a package that includes Vinny Prospal. Or maybe you dangle Willis, who showed spurts but generally struggled.

Gaining Morris also would give Feaster flexibility for future moves. He could parlay Morris for a legitimate scorer, or feel better about trading Stan Neckar or prospect Kristian Kudroc.

Moving Kudroc, 21, would be painful given his potential, but if you want to win now, you must give in order to receive.

With what is again expected to be a limited budget, let's see how Feaster makes the pieces (and dollars) work.

RAMSAY AS COACH?: Speculation is the Ducks may have an interest in associate coach Craig Ramsay as their head coach. Ramsay was an assistant with the Panthers when Bryan Murray was general manager. Murray holds that job with Anaheim.

Ramsay, the architect of Tampa Bay's special teams, said he has not spoken to the Ducks.

"I'm happy in Tampa," Ramsay said. "It's not something I'm actively pursuing."

The Ducks must ask permission to speak to Ramsay, who has a year remaining on his contract and a club option for 2003-04. Ramsay said he had not heard from Feaster about such a request. Feaster could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Asked if he would listen if Murray called, Ramsay, who has had short coaching stints with the Sabres and Flyers, said, "You always want to be challenged at a higher level."

JUST IN CASE: What happens if Feaster can't trade the No. 4 pick? The draft board, though considered weak, offers intriguing options. Forward Joffrey Lupul had 56 goals and 51 assists in 72 games for WHL Medicine Hat.

Tampa Bay also has at least passing interest in left wing Rick Nash, who had 32 goals, 40 assists for OHL London, Finnish defenseman Joni Pitkanen, Russian left wing Alexander Semin and Czech center Jiri Hudler.

THE NEW SEASON: Training camp is tentatively scheduled to begin Sept. 12 at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.

Preseason games are scheduled Sept. 20 at Atlanta; 21 vs. Columbus; 24 vs. Carolina at Fort Myers; 25 vs. Carolina; 27 at Florida; 28 vs. Florida and Oct. 1 vs. Atlanta; 4 at Ottawa; 5 at Toronto.

ODDS AND ENDS: The team will not have new uniforms next season as was planned. Spokesman Bill Wickett said some designs and color schemes were considered but none was deemed worthy. ... Feaster said former Lightning defenseman Rudy Poeschek will be in camp on a tryout basis, and Feaster still may try to sign 600-goal scorer Dino Ciccarelli. ... Feaster is interviewing for a player personnel director. Scout Rick Paterson is said to be a front-runner. ... Former center Stan Drulia will coach and be head of hockey operations for the Orlando Seals of the new Atlantic Coast Hockey League. ... Prospect Aaron Lobb is recovered from a major knee injury and was expected to play Saturday night for OHL Guelph against QMJHL Victoriaville in the first game of the Memorial Cup junior championship. ... Defenseman Jassen Cullimore was named a Hometown Hero by the Florida Sports Awards because of "significant contributions to the youth of his community." ... Minor-league defenseman Sasha Goc, unhappy with his role in the organization, will likely play next season in his native Germany.

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