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St. Louis negotiations: quick and painless

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2002

General manager Jay Feaster was not completely surprised Martin St. Louis' contract negotiations went so smoothly, but he did admit to some prenegotiation jitters.

General manager Jay Feaster was not completely surprised Martin St. Louis' contract negotiations went so smoothly, but he did admit to some prenegotiation jitters.

St. Louis had a team-high 16 goals when he broke his leg Jan. 23 in Pittsburgh, and the right wing's $290,000 salary clearly was going to be obliterated.

Arbitration, a winner-take-all (or loser-lose-all) process available to players with at least five years' pro experience, seemed a real possibility.

"You never know what the dynamic is going to be," Feaster said of a negotiation. "It comes down to what the player is thinking and what the agent is thinking. Every situation is different."

This situation had an agent, Lewis Gross, who did not mind getting a deal done quickly for a client who wanted a stress-free summer of rehab and a GM who, when dealing with arbitration-eligible players, is devoted to the middle ground.

The result was a two-year, $2.5-million deal ($1-million next season, $1.5-million in 2003-04) both sides believe is win-win.

"I think it was both sides wanting to get a deal done," Gross said. "It's pretty much as simple as that. If both sides are looking to come to an agreement, you can do it. That's what happened here."

Put simply, Feaster presented Gross the NHL players he would compare with St. Louis in an arbitration hearing. Gross did the same for Feaster. The players generally were the same, meaning the sides could split the difference of salary expectations.

Feaster did the same last summer with agent Paul Theofanous in negotiating a deal for goalie Kevin Weekes.

Feaster and agent Roland Thompson collaborated on a contract for defenseman Jassen Cullimore, though with a twist. So neither side appeared to make the first offer, they simultaneously faxed proposals at 5 o'clock one afternoon.

"You need to be intellectually honest, and your counterpart has to be intellectually honest," Feaster said. "When one side says, "If I win, here's a contract I can get (in arbitration),' the other side has to say, "You know, he's right.' "

Problems arise when players used for comparison are not the same, meaning salary expectations also likely will be different.

With forwards Fredrik Modin, Shane Willis, Vinny Prospal, Andre Roy and Chris Dingman, and defenseman Pavel Kubina arbitration-eligible, there is plenty of potential for disagreement.

Feaster is hopeful.

"If you're looking to get a deal done, it's the way to do it," he said.

DUDLEY EFFECT: The Lightning has the No. 4 pick in the June draft. It also picks in the fourth and fifth rounds, twice in the sixth, once in the eight and once in the ninth.

What happened to the second-round pick? To sign Ottawa general manager Rick Dudley as its own in June 1999, Tampa Bay sent the Senators left wing Rob Zamuner and its second-round pick in 2002 as compensation.

Why no third-round pick? Dudley, now with the Panthers, traded it to the Flyers for three picks in 2001.

The seventh? Dudley sent it to Philly for a pick in 2001 and this year's ninth-round pick. BONE STRUCTURE: Nolan Pratt is popping pills. After his second broken bone last season and third in three years, the defenseman began taking calcium tablets to help ensure his bones were in good shape.

"Just to be on the safe side," he said.

Pratt missed 36 games last season because of separate breaks of a foot and leg while blocking shots. A cross-check broke a bone in his back while with the Hurricanes in 1999-2000.

There was even talk last season of checking Pratt's bone density, though Pratt said he was told a lack of density is considered rare and tests were not done.

Pratt admitted he "lost a step" after the broken leg and was concerned the Lightning would think twice about picking up his option for next season.

"It's hard to keep starting over," said Pratt, whose $650,000 option was exercised last week. "I hope to come back and have a healthy season."

TRADE TROUBLE: Andrei Zyuzin was supposed to be the answer to the Lightning's lack of offense from the back line. Instead, he is the centerpiece of two disappointing deals by Dudley.

There are two remaining pieces. Defenseman Josef Boumedienne is in the minors, and prospect Anton But (pronounced Boot) is expected to play in Russia at least another season.

That is all there is.

Zyuzin was acquired in August 1999 from the Sharks with Bill Houlder, Shawn Burr and Steve Guolla for Niklas Sundstrom and a draft pick.

Houlder and Guolla were lost through waivers, and Burr's contract was bought out in July 2000.

Zyuzin was a bust while Sundstrom has been a solid contributor for San Jose.

Zyuzin was traded to the Devils in November for Boumedienne, But and defenseman Sasha Goc. But is raw. Boumedienne and Goc struggled and were sent to AHL Springfield.

Goc, apparently disenchanted with his role, likely will play next season in his native Germany.

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