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Feaster should take ownership up on offer

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 25, 2002

General manager Jay Feaster should take Tom Wilson at his word and, in the process, put him on the spot.

In case you missed it, the CEO of Palace Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Lightning, said last week ownership is willing to approve a trade that would cost the organization money.

Wilson did not say how much ownership might boost payroll from its current $28.1-million, but he said Feaster should do his homework and propose a deal.

"That's what a little success can do for you," Wilson said.

Feaster should strike while those words are fresh in everyone's mind, and the dynamic is such that a deal would be difficult to refuse.

The Lightning leads the Southeast Division, is No.2 in the East and appears to be a legitimate playoff contender. It also is well ahead of a pace to produce the 40 points Wilson has said it needed by January before he would listen to long-term plans about personnel and team direction.

It also helps that Feaster, a lawyer whose primary expertise is in the business world, appears to be on the same page as Palace Sports owner Bill Davidson when it comes to mergers, so to speak, and acquisitions.

"It is about adding value," Feaster said. "It's not about acquiring players for a media or public relations campaign. It's about building value in the business."

Just think of what one or two significant additions -- a defenseman who can run the power play and maybe another scoring wing -- would do to enhance Tampa Bay's present and future value.

Ownership did well by signing Nikolai Khabibulin.

What a waste if his prime is not spent in the playoffs. Wilson should keep in mind how much he can raise ticket prices if the Lightning gets there.

Fashioning such deals is not easy. Tampa Bay is way past making small trades and incremental improvements. Feaster's next trade should be big so the Lightning can make a leap. Such deals do not come cheap, and fans should prepare to see a significant Lightning player or two involved in a swap.

So let's speculate.

Feaster has said Tampa Bay's immediate need is a defenseman who can run the power play. So if a trade or an acquisition off waivers happens, it likely will be sooner rather than later.

A backup goalie could become a consideration, depending on how Kevin Hodson does when he finally gets some work. But with Khabibulin happy to carry the load, that likely will not become an issue until February or March.

With the Lightning second in the league in scoring, another goal-getting forward is more a luxury than necessity.

Significant trade bait? Hard to say. But consider the Lightning is tying a long-term commitment to Fredrik Modin to his ability to stay healthy and be a 30-goal scorer. The left wing, who is making $1.7-million this season, has five goals (a pace to score 26), is minus-2 and has missed six games because of injuries.

It also is no secret the Lightning is disappointed in Pavel Kubina's development. The defenseman signed a two-year, $4.75-million contract last summer, has one goal, is minus-2 and has been benched in three of the past six games.

There is no indication Feaster is shopping those players. But either would bring a handsome price, and a good GM evaluates upsides, downsides and keeps his options open. As should ownership.

There is too much going right for the Lightning for a few million bucks to get in the way of a playoff run. The coaching staff has done its job. The players have done theirs, and there is no adequate superlative to describe the loyalty of Tampa Bay's fans.

It is time for ownership to step up. Wilson said it is ready. Feaster's response should be: prove it.


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