By TOM JONES, Times Staff Writer
Published August 5, 2005
The Lightning was on the verge Thursday of bringing back another member of its Stanley Cup team. It is in the final stages of nailing down an agreement with defenseman Nolan Pratt, according to Pratt's agent, Carlos Sosa.
"It's pretty close," Sosa said. "We're just going through a couple of different scenarios and trying to see which is best."
Pratt, who turns 30 this month, has a one-year offer on the table because the Lightning made a qualifying offer last week for a little more than $700,000. But he could opt to become an unrestricted free agent today because he is a 10-year professional making less than the league average.
It's looking as if Pratt will pass up that chance in order to return to the Lightning for multiple years. Sosa is trying to figure out what kind of terms make sense for his client.
"The big question is not what's going on this year, but what is the market going to be like next year," Sosa said. "We're all sort of feeling our way in this dark new world that we've created for ourselves."
Sosa said the new salary cap appears to be creating havoc all over the NHL.
"It's frustrating and interesting at the same time," Sosa said.
Small-market teams such as Pittsburgh and Edmonton are signing stars to high salaries. Meantime, other stars such as Mike Modano and Bobby Holik are signing at discounted prices. No player has signed a free-agent deal for the maximum salary ($7.8-million).
"I think when this is all said and done, this (collective-bargaining) agreement is going to be hated by everyone," Sosa said. "So that probably means its a good deal."
Still, Sosa said, it might take a year or two for teams, players and agents to figure out how to work with the salary-cap system.
"You look at some numbers and you say, "I can't believe a guy signed for that,' " Sosa said. "Maybe he signed for less than you thought or more than you thought. It might take a year to see if this whole thing implodes on certain teams or continues to rise. Right now, there's just no way to tell what's happening."
That's what Lightning general manager Jay Feaster is experiencing as he tries to figure out a way to bring back stars Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Nikolai Khabibulin and Dan Boyle. Of those four, only Khabibulin is unrestricted and can sign without the Lightning having a chance to match the offer.
But the Lightning might be working on another offer as other teams drop out of the Khabibulin sweepstakes. The Blackhawks and Coyotes are believed to have backed away. The Penguins, Canucks and Red Wings remain interested, but don't appear willing to offer the $7-million a year Khabibulin is seeking.
Meantime, the Lightning likely will lose defenseman and unrestricted free agent Brad Lukowich. Sosa, who also represents Lukowich, said he has talked to "a lot of teams" about Lukowich and a decision might be made after a few other big-name defenseman around the league sign contracts.
"I'm sure there will be continued interest," Sosa said. "He's a veteran guy with two Stanley Cups. And he's an offensive defenseman in a league that is going to open up the game. I'm sure there will be a market for him."
Pratt, who appeared on his way out of the organization several times, has a chance to be a regular this season. He played 58 regular-season games in 2003-04, his third season with the Lightning, with a goal and three assists. He went on to play 20 of the Lightning's 23 postseason games.