Lightning ponders 19-year-old bargain

Andy Rogers says he'd play for less if that's what it takes to get the final defensive spot.

Published September 27, 2005

The Lightning's day off from training camp Monday couldn't have come at a better time for Andy Rogers, whose head still was spinning.

Get this:

Rogers, 19, just 15 months after being drafted and without a regular-season pro game to his credit, found out Sunday he is in the mix for the Stanley Cup champ's sixth and final defensive spot.

And thanks to the new collective-bargaining agreement, he might have to lose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it.

"I'm just trying to kind of put things in perspective and slow down and kind of come back down to earth and not let this all overwhelm me," he said.

It is quite a situation.

Barring the acquisition of another defenseman by trade or through waivers, Rogers and Timo Helbling will compete for the final position. But Rogers still needs a contract, and that is where the fun starts.

First, throw out the new CBA's rookie cap of $850,000. As a 2004 draft pick, Rogers is entitled to ask for that year's cap of $1.295-million. As a low first-rounder, 30th overall, figure an asking price of about $900,000.

The Lightning, though, only has about $1.8-million to play with under the $39-million salary cap and needs room to promote or sign players if anyone gets injured. The team likely will offer Rogers a package of about $600,000 with base salary and signing bonus.

It's a good deal for Tampa Bay. It gets a top prospect at a lower salary. And even if Rogers does not make the team this season and is sent back to juniors - as the CBA requires for all signed 18- and 19-year-olds not on NHL rosters - the contract is in place for the future.

Rogers, a Calgary native, could decline and hope the Lightning pays big by June 1, when he is eligible to return to the draft. But he also has to consider that a cap-stressed team might consider a $600,000 player more attractive on its roster than one making $900,000.

Still, over the mandatory three-year rookie contract, that's a heck of a lot of money to potentially leave on the table.

Rogers said if he knew he would be with the Lightning, it would be worth it.

"Definitely," he said. "If I was given the opportunity to play and meanwhile taking less money, absolutely I would. I don't think there would be any question. There are people who dream of playing in the National Hockey League. I don't think money can ever be an issue given that opportunity."

"I think that's very much Andy," said Rogers' father, Mark, on the phone from Calgary. "He's not in this for the money. He just wants to play hockey. It's about playing in the show. He feels if he's good enough and develops, the money will come."

Rogers, a 6-foot-5, 200-pounder who played last season with Calgary and Prince George of the Western Hockey League, said all he wanted out of his first pro camp was to learn and "enjoy the experience and see where it takes me."

He said he was startled somewhat by the speed of the games and strength of the players. Even the skill of the goalies was a revelation.

"Each game my timing is getting much better," said Rogers, who has zero points but is plus-2 in four preseason games. "I still need to improve and can play better, but I'm learning something every day and my timing is getting better as we go."

He refuses to look past the next practice.

"It's very exciting for me and definitely a boost of confidence," Rogers said. "But there is a lot of work to be done. I have to work that much harder and play that much better to hopefully get a shot."

General manager Jay Feaster said Rogers, a good skater, makes smart plays and has poise.

"He doesn't put himself in bad situations, and he has the ability when he makes bad plays to come back from it," he said. "That's one of the things that has separated him in this camp from some of the others. He recovers quickly."

The day off was a big help.