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Team ending Springfield affiliation

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003

PHOENIX -- The Lightning is looking for a new American Hockey League affiliate.

General manager Jay Feaster said Tampa Bay won't share Springfield with the Coyotes after the two-year deal between the teams expires at the end of the season.

"What doesn't work for us is not being in control of the situation," Feaster said. "That's the reason by hook or by crook, I want to find a way not to have to be in a dual (affiliation) next year."

The Lightning could take over the affiliation of an existing team. Rochester, the longtime Sabres partner, was the prime target. But when Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano agreed to buy the Sabres, he said the relationship with the Americans would continue.

Tampa Bay could wait to see what shakes loose or it could hook up with an expansion team. Kansas City has been mentioned though no owners have stepped up. As a last resort, Feaster said he would consider a dual affiliation with another AHL team.

What are the problems in Springfield? It has been inconsistent under first-year coach Marty McSorley, and there are difficulties serving two masters.

"You have guys there trying to make both organizations happy. It's a tough thing to do," Feaster said. "And when a guy sits, then the question is, 'Why am I sitting and why is that guy not?' It's for both teams. It's not a one-way street by any stretch of the imagination. But it's a very difficult environment."

There also are whispers the Lightning is unhappy with McSorley, who was hired by the Coyotes and is a friend of owner Wayne Gretzky and general manager Mike Barnett.

"We worked the best we can in a shared relationship," Barnett said. "But you really want to be able to have control of who is in and out of the lineup, and I respect the fact that they want to have their own head coach. It's not unusual to see teams who have been sharing to go off on their own."

Said Feaster: "We have a good scouting staff, we have the right number of scouts, we don't have the constant player movement. We've really done a good job of trying to button things down. The one area we haven't cleaned up yet is minor-league player development at the AHL level."

CONSEQUENCES: Because the Lightning holds just 12 roster spots in a dual affiliate, it must sign minor-league players to contracts that allow them to be sent to ECHL Pensacola. The money is the same but playing in the ECHL is further away from the NHL.

Feaster said he is concerned some European players will balk.

"I'm worried they'll say, 'You guys figure out your minor-league system. Until then, I'll stay in Europe,"' Feaster said.

SCRATCHES: Forwards Chris Dingman and Ben Clymer, and defensemen Marc Bergevin, Janne Laukkanen and Darren Rumble.

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