Captain provides final puzzle piece

Andreychuk's two-year, $1.356-million contract finishes the Lightning's post-lockout rebuilding.

Published August 26, 2005

Lightning general manager Jay Feaster was pestered every time he talked to one of his players this summer.

What's going on with Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk?

Brad Richards wanted to know. Vinny Lecavalier wanted to know. So did Martin St. Louis.

"Every guy, and I mean every guy, I talked to," Feaster said, "wanted to know what was going to happen with Andy."

On Thursday, Feaster gave his answer. He signed Andreychuk, who turns 42 next month, to a two-year deal worth $1.326-million, which will count as $663,000 against the salary cap over each of the next two seasons.

"He's a leader," Feaster said. "He walked into our room four years ago and he helped us grow. ... Every guy on this team looks up to him. I think the guy is going to play until he's 60."

Well, Andreychuk's plan for now is to play this season and hope he feels well enough to play next season, too. He admits a lot of rust piled up on his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame with the yearlong lockout, but swears he has never felt better going into a season - his 23rd in the NHL.

"I think the year off benefited me," Andreychuk said. "I'm refreshed. I think for an older guy like me, the year helped. It's true that I've felt a little rusty, but I can see the progress lately."

Andreychuk took two months off after the Lightning won the Cup - the first in Andreychuk's career - in June of 2004. He then stopped skating when the 2004-05 season was canceled in February. He returned to the ice regularly last month and said he will be physically ready. Mentally? He has been ready for a year.

"I could've won the Cup and walked off into the sunset, but I knew I still wanted to play," Andreychuk said. "I still had the desire to come back, especially with this team."

Andreychuk, a sure-fire Hall of Famer who is seventh all time in the NHL in games played with 1,597, admitted he would have played somewhere else if the Lightning had no room to sign him.

"But I never talked to another team," Andreychuk said. "I would have if the Lightning couldn't sign me, but I knew I wanted to play and I wanted to play here. I understood I had to wait until everything else settled - getting Vinny signed, getting Marty signed, and so forth. And they told me all along that they wanted me back. I just had to be patient."

Andreychuk has 19 20-goal seasons on his resume, including all three of his seasons with the Lightning. But even though his days of being a first- or second-line center are gone, Feaster sees no risk in signing Andreychuk to a two-year deal, even if he stops producing offensively.

"He is worth having here for his leadership," Feaster said. "Even if next season he's nothing more than a faceoff guy and power-play specialist, he is worth having around. Plus, he's only a little more than $200,000 over the minimum salary. You're not going to replace what he brings with someone else at the minimum salary."

With Thursday's signing of Andreychuk, Feaster's work this summer is just about over. All that's left is to chose a sixth defenseman. Feaster said he is "kicking tires" to see if there are any free-agent veterans willing to play for the league minimum of $450,000. If he can't find anyone, he is comfortable with giving the job to a prospect.

The Lightning has 19 players signed for $37.209-million. The league's salary cap is set at $39-million.

"In my perfect world, we would've been operating at about $36.5-million to leave room to add a player or two during the season," Feaster said. "The reality, though, is we couldn't do that and keep all the guys who are here. And we didn't want to do that."

NOTE: St. Louis and Ruslan Fedotenko will be a part of the Lightning's FANtastic Friday today at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. Fedotenko will sign autographs from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and St. Louis will sign from 3 to 4:30 p.m.