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Feaster says team staying on course

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 21, 2002

Lightning general manager Jay Feaster decided to sit out the first frenzied weeks of unrestricted free agency. With prices crazy -- $9-million a season for Bobby Holik and Bill Guerin, $6-million for Tony Amonte, -- it is not a surprise.

"Those numbers just don't work for the Tampa Bay Lightning," Feaster said. "That's not what we're about."

Feaster knows the inactivity plays into the stereotype of Tampa Bay doing things on the cheap, and e-mails to the Times sports department confirm the sentiment is out there.

Feaster, though, said ownership is willing to put up significant money if the circumstances are favorable. For that to happen, Feaster, in his first job as an NHL general manager, must establish credibility with the money men; owner Bill Davidson, CEO Tom Wilson and president Ron Campbell.

For now, Feaster is trying to build through a series of smaller, fiscally responsible moves he hopes will push the team closer to the playoffs without breaking the bank.

It is a plan he has discussed with ownership with an eye toward a bigger payoff.

"It is important that we work the plan, that we do the things we said in a workmanlike manner," Feaster said. "Look, these are smart business people, and when you do go and say, "This player makes a difference and puts us in a different category,' they can say that so far it has been dead-bang on."

Parts of the plan: no mega-priced free agents, no older players who, as Feaster said, "are coming here to retire," identifying underused talent and patience.

As second-tier free agents remain unsigned, prices should come down. Feaster also will try to work trades to make payroll hikes less substantial.

"We're not going to throw money around for the sake of throwing money around. We're building a team for the long term and the right way," Feaster said.

"Fans many not like the approach and may get tired of hearing it, but there has to be the ability on the part of management to say to ownership, "This is what it will cost and this is the guarantee of what will come of it.' "

There is, of course, no timetable as to when that might happen.

BERARD AVAILABLE: Unrestricted free-agent defenseman Bryan Berard, whose comeback with the Rangers after a devastating eye injury was one of last season's feel-good stories, still is unsigned.

Berard's agent, Tom Laidlaw, said he has not been contacted by the Lightning but added his client would not mind playing in Tampa.

"Take a player like that who has something to learn, and a team like Tampa that clearly wants to win now but is building for down the road, a player like Bryan fits right into their plans," Laidlaw said.

Berard, 25, made $2-million last season. The No. 1 overall pick by the Senators in the 1995 draft had two goals and 23 assists, did not miss a game and was minus-1. He is good on the power play, though even Laidlaw said Berard still is learning defensively.

"At the end, with the team struggling to make the playoffs, he got shuffled to the back," Laidlaw said. "We want to get him in the right place where he will have an opportunity to play."

GOING FORWARD: Dave Schatia, agent for left wing Ruslan Fedotenko, said he is aware of Feaster's plan not to negotiate contracts after the start of camp but doesn't believe it will affect his client.

"There is no feeling we will be holding out," Schatia said. "I like Jay. We're reasonable people. I don't see why he and I can't come to some sort of conclusion."

Still, Schatia said Fedotenko is in a "unique situation" because of what the Lightning gave up to get him (the No. 4 overall draft pick) and what Tampa Bay believes he can contribute.

It is believed Feaster is offering a two-year, $1.5-million deal.

"We're advancing," Schatia said, "slowly but surely."

ODDS AND ENDS: Right wing Martin St. Louis was in Tampa last week for an examination of the right leg he broke last season. Feaster said everything looks good. ... It appears right wing Nikita Alexeev is taking seriously the opportunity he will get in camp to challenge Shane Willis for a spot on the No. 2 line. Alexeev, 20, has been working out on his own in Tampa, has added about 20 pounds of muscle and is now 6 feet 5, 235 pounds.


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