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Price of the Cup going up

Lightning GM Jay Feaster and president Ron Campbell already are working on ways to retain the team's core.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published June 9, 2004

photo
[AP photo]
Jassen Cullimore, right, is one of 26 Lightning players who needs a new contract. The team has an option on Nikolai Khabibulin, left.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
These players in the Lightning organization need new contracts for the 2004-05 season:
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: Dmitry Afanasenkov, Nikita Alexeev, Martin Cibak, Brian Eklund, Timo Helbling, Sheldon Keefe, Evgeny Konstantinov, Jimmie Olvestad, Eero Somervuori, Jeremy Van Hoof.
RESTRICTED WITH ARBITRATION RIGHTS: Ben Clymer, Chris Dingman, Ruslan Fedotenko, Dwayne Hay, Pavel Kubina, Fredrik Modin, Stan Neckar, Nolan Pratt, Cory Sarich, Martin St. Louis, Cory Stillman, Pascal Trepanier, Shane Willis.
UNRESTRICTED: Dave Andreychuk, Jassen Cullimore, Darren Rumble.
TEAM OPTIONS: Nikolai Khabibulin, Eric Perrin.

TAMPA - In a joking, half-serious, dreading-the-inevitable kind of way, Lightning general manager Jay Feaster did not want the postseason to end.

Game 7? How about 8, 9 or even 10 of the Stanley Cup final? That would be so much better, Feaster figured, than what is to come this summer.

Twenty-six players in the organization need new contracts. Fifteen were on the playoff roster, including MVP candidate Martin St. Louis, forwards Dave Andreychuk, Fredrik Modin, Ruslan Fedotenko and Cory Stillman, and defensemen Jassen Cullimore, Pavel Kubina and Cory Sarich.

"I'd be lying to you if I told you this was a summer that I was looking forward to," Feaster said.

The pressures on Feaster and team president Ron Campbell will be unlike anything with which they have dealt.

Campbell said the goal, as much as possible, is to keep the Stanley Cup champs together. But that could push payroll to $46-million, an increase of $13-million.

Thirteen players have a right to arbitration, a divisive process that has been a loser for teams.

And with the collective bargaining agreement between the league and Players Association set to expire Sept. 14, and a lockout looming, no one knows if there will be hockey next season, and if there is, what kind of payroll restraints might be in place.

Until that is straightened out, Feaster said it is business as usual. He said he and Campbell likely will present a budget to owner Bill Davidson and CEO Tom Wilson by the end of the month.

"What I do know," Feaster said, "is that if I go in and say I need $15-, $16-, $13-million more in payroll, I do know I'm not going to be able to show Bill Davidson the corresponding amount of revenue. We certainly haven't sold that many new season tickets for next season.

"What's going to happen is Mr. Davidson is going to say, "Here is the number I'm prepared to accept as a loss prior to whatever happens in the postseason,' because you certainly can't budget that you're going to go four rounds into the playoffs. All we can do is work within our framework of the budget and see how the new CBA agreement overlays that."

"We have to sit down and be focused," Campbell said. "But I do believe we have gained X amount of credibility to say this is the right thing to do. But we're not going to be naive. It's going to be management at its best."

Campbell reiterated the team's intent to pick up the $6.5-million option on the contract of goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. But the most interesting negotiation might be with St. Louis.

The wing, who led the league with 94 points and made $1.5-million in the second season of a two-year contract, is in line for a huge raise. Speculation is his salary could jump to about $5-million.

How will the Lightning pay for whatever payroll increase is forthcoming?

The good news for owner Palace Sports & Entertainment is that for the fiscal year ending June 30 it apparently will make a cash profit on its Tampa operation, which includes the St. Pete Times Forum lease. Campbell has said about $2-million, but the final number is not in.

Campbell said the team is about 1,000 season tickets ahead of last season's 9,500, and he hopes to increase ticket revenue by about $8-million which would bring it up to the league average of $29-million.

"We have to continually assess our business," Campbell said. "But because of our success we'll be able to drive ticket revenues much further and sponsor revenues. I think we have created an environment where (competing for the Cup) will be expected and that's added pressure. We're glad to have that pressure."

It's the process that's difficult.

"One of the greatest things for me personally of this postseason run is it just kept putting off the real world for another day," Feaster said. "The type of pressure you're going to feel, the type of difficult decisions, just what is going to happen; those type of decisions, you can just keep pushing them off."

Not anymore.

"The real world is going to be back upon us," Feaster said.

And it's going to be expensive.

[Last modified June 9, 2004, 01:00:39]

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