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Andreychuk to return for 22nd season

The team captain doesn't want to retire now that the Lightning has improved.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 10, 2003

It did not take Dave Andreychuk long to make his decision.

The Lightning captain said Friday he plans to play next season. It will be his 22nd in the NHL and third with Tampa Bay.

"I have no reason not to play," Andreychuk said.

Though it was just a crack, the Hamilton, Ontario, native left the door open for his retirement after Sunday's exit interviews with coach John Tortorella and general manager Jay Feaster.

Andreychuk, who will be 40 when the season begins, said he had to make sure he was mentally prepared for offseason workouts. Five days later he said the commitment is there. The team's success made the call easy.

"I want to be part of it," he said. "There has been a standard set for our team, and I want to make sure I'm part of it as we continue to raise the bar."

Feaster has said that if Andreychuk decided to play he would try to complete a contract as soon as possible. Andreychuk's two-year, $1.7-million deal ran out after the season.

But Feaster hedged his bets and told Andreychuk during his exit interview if he decided not to play, there would be a spot for him as an assistant coach.

"He's someone who has studied the game and understands the game," Feaster said. "And he understands the dynamic of the people in our locker room."

"They obviously respect me enough that they want to keep me in the organization long term," Andreychuk said. "I'm proud of that. For me and my family, it's something we would obviously consider."

Andreychuk had 20 goals, including a team-high 15 on the power play, and 34 points this season. His 58.4 winning percentage on faceoffs was one of the league's highest.

He achieved milestones such as his 600th goal (he has 613, 11th all-time). He set the league record for power-play goals and has 260. He played in his 1,500th game and had his 18th 20-goal season. Only Gordie Howe (22) and Ron Francis (20) have more.

Andreychuk averaged 16:26 of ice time, much more than the 9-12 planned as the season began.

"We start the year off that way all the time, and I try to prove them wrong every year," Andreychuk said. "I hope to do that again next year."

Andreychuk knows he needs to give way to the youngsters who need ice time to develop.

"That's the business part of playing in the NHL," he said. "But it also comes down to winning. The message was pretty clear in our organization that we want to win. I'm going to do everything I have to as a player to try to get the team to win."

AFFILIATE DECISION PENDING: If AHL Rochester cannot reach an agreement with long-time partner Buffalo, the Lightning will step in.

The Americans, a Sabres affiliate for 24 seasons and with three years remaining on their contract, want a commitment the Sabres will stock the team with more veterans to help it improve.

Feaster said he can accommodate that vision.

"With the money we have budgeted for the minor leagues, we can put a very good hockey club in there," he said.

If the Americans work things out with the Sabres, Tampa Bay could partner with the Stars and share the Utah Grizzlies. The problem: Utah could insist on a long-term commitment from Tampa Bay to stick around if Dallas, as expected, leaves after next season. Ideally the Lightning, whose two-year dual-affiliation agreement to share Springfield with the Coyotes ran out, wants a team closer to the east to make travel easier.

Another option is for Tampa Bay to disperse its minor-league players to AHL teams for a season until either an expansion team (New Orleans is a possibility) or another team becomes available.

NO KHABIBULIN TRADE: Feaster denied a report in Toronto's Globe and Mail that said Nikolai Khabibulin would be traded.

"I have no intention of trading Nik," Feaster said.

The story, quoting unnamed sources, said the goalie angered his teammates with his vocal dissatisfaction at being benched for Game 5 of the East semifinals against the Devils.

There is no question Khabibulin was upset. But he never went public with his anger, and Feaster said the goalie did not address his concerns with the organization until the exit interviews.

"That's the first time Nik said anything to anybody," Feaster said.

Of potential problems with Khabibulin's relationship with the team or Tortorella, Feaster said it is a "nonissue. ... The idea that something needs to be smoothed over and handled has been overblown."

PROSPAL NEGOTIATIONS BEGIN: Feaster met twice with left wing Vinny Prospal and agent Rich Winter. Winter said there are appointments for future talks.

"It was as productive today as it could have been," he said.

Prospal, 28, who had a team-high 79 points, is expected to opt for unrestricted free agency if he is not signed by July 1. He has that option because he played 10 pro seasons (minors and the NHL) and this season made less than the league minimum salary.

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