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TAMPA -- Sheldon Keefe appears to be a casualty in the Lightning's attempt to get more size and speed into the lineup.
With center Alexander Svitov and right wing Nikita Alexeev up from AHL Springfield, Keefe, who is averaging 10:16 of ice time but played fewer than 10 minutes in his past four games, was sent down.
"We're struggling. We need to win some hockey games and this is an opportunity for those guys," Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said. "We want to see how they respond, and having Sheldon sit on the bench and play four minutes is not doing anything for his development."
Feaster said Keefe, who has two goals and five assists in 36 games, will remain in Springfield until at least the All-Star break when Tampa Bay will be "re-evaluating our entire personnel situation" with an eye toward the March 11 trade deadline.
Keefe, 22, declined comment through agent David Frost. But Frost said, "Sheldon is prepared to go down there until the All-Star break and do what he always does. He goes on the ice and plays extremely hard. He is completely prepared to go down there and do exactly that, but we do think that Sheldon Keefe is an NHL player and we hope this moves forward after the All-Star break."
Keefe has been an occasional subject of trade rumors. Asked about moving him if he is not promoted after the break, Feaster said, "I have no intention of trading Sheldon Keefe."
RICHARDS OUT: Center Brad Richards was granted a leave of absence and went home to Murray Harbor on Prince Edward Island because his grandmother is very ill. Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett said there is no timetable for his return.
"We wish Brad and his family the best and know he will be back as soon as he can," Wickett said.
HODSON RETIRES: Goalie Kevin Hodson declined an assignment to Springfield to take a position with Tampa Bay as a part-time instructor and scout.
Hodson, 30, was put on waivers after the Lightning acquired goalie John Grahame from the Bruins. He cleared Wednesday but will take the job that will allow him to relocate to Sault Ste. Marie, where his wife has a business.
"The whole thought process of coming here was to try to make the Tampa Bay Lightning," Hodson said. "I just felt if I couldn't do that, I would just move on with my career.
"This is definitely a day of closure for me. Now I know my career is over as a player, but I have a lot to offer as a consultant."