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Lightning adds two to family

The team sticks to its plan, getting a pair of experienced defensemen without touching its roster or disrupting chemistry.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 12, 2003


TAMPA -- Jay Feaster is a man of his word.

The Lightning general manager said he would not trade anyone off the roster or the team's top prospects. He said he would go after a defenseman and, if a deal for a top-four player did not materialize, would add depth.

A big 10-4 on all counts.

As teams at the top of the NHL's food chain gulped down talent, Tampa Bay stuck to its plan to add depth without disrupting team chemistry and a strong locker room or sacrifice a part of its future.

"I think we had a great day," Feaster said shortly after Tuesday's 3 p.m. trade deadline. "I really do. We brought in two guys who have experience in the league and playoff experience, and we did it without taking a guy off the roster."

The Lightning spent $15,000 to claim defenseman Janne Laukkanen off waivers from the Rangers, and acquired defenseman and former Lightning Marc Bergevin from the Penguins for minor-league center Brian Holzinger.

They will join the team for tonight's game against the Kings at the St. Pete Times Forum, though neither is expected to play. In fact, unless there are injuries or a substantial slip in blue line play, they might not get into a game. But at least they are there, Feaster said.

Before the moves, the Lightning had eight defensemen on the roster, including Jassen Cullimore, out since early December's shoulder surgery.

Feaster wanted to be 10-deep at the position that got even thinner last weekend when Brad Lukowich sustained a hip flexor injury that could keep him out of tonight's game, and Kristian Kudroc chipped a bone in his ankle playing for AHL Springfield.

"The problem is we're hanging by a thread," Feaster said. "One injury can derail this thing."

The consideration for the Lightning was always whether a top-four player was worth the cost.

The equation was simplified after the Hurricanes sent Glen Wesley to the Maple Leafs and the Kings re-signed Aaron Miller. Both were high on Feaster's list that also included Buffalo's Alexei Zhitnik, Los Angeles' Mathieu Schneider and Chicago's Phil Housley.

But if what the Red Wings gave up for Schneider (defenseman Maxim Kuznetsov, forward Sean Avery, a first- and a second-round draft pick) is an indication of the market, it is not surprising the Lightning went the way it did.

"It's tough to run with that," player personnel director Bill Barber said. "We felt that with this team, the last thing we wanted to do is get a big-name player and have to give up three or four players that would hurt us at the other end. One bad move here could set you back not just a year but for years."

Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin agreed the Lightning, without superstars, cannot blindly interchange parts.

"We don't quite have the players that, say, Detroit or Colorado or Dallas has, so we need to play as a team," he said. "We need to have good chemistry. We have a good thing going now. Sometimes you change something and it might not be a good deal."

Laukkanen, 32, a three-time Finnish Olympian who went from Pittsburgh to New York in the Alexei Kovalev deal, is a good penalty killer and can provide some offense. He makes $1.6-million in the last year of his contract and just came off a conditioning stint with AHL Hartford.

Bergevin, 39 and in his 19th season, plays a stay-at-home style and makes $400,000 with a year remaining on his deal. The Penguins anticipated using him 40 to 45 games. He played 69 of 70 with two goals and five assists.

Laukkanen has played 57 playoff games, Bergevin 76. Both have good locker room reputations.

Bergevin, who played with Tampa Bay from the franchise's start in 1992 to 1995, said he understands his role.

"Obviously, as an athlete you want to play," he said. "But I understand they played 70 games without me and have people in place. Whatever I'll be asked, that's what I'll do. I'm a team guy, a team player, and I'm there to help my teammates."

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