tampabay.com

One year at home might be enough

Evgeny Artyukhin, the Lightning both have interest in a reunion.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published January 29, 2007


TAMPA - Evgeny Artyukhin is one of those players who leaves an impression.

Whether along the boards when he plasters an opponent or simply in the minds of those who watch, the big Russian is hard to forget.

"He's a strong man," said Lightning forward Ryan Craig, who played with Artyukhin in the minors and for Tampa Bay. "I've heard people use the word 'specimen.' "

General manager Jay Feaster said he likely will begin negotiations this summer to bring the specimen, playing in Russia, back to the Lightning. It is noteworthy not only because Tampa Bay could use the rugged 6-foot-4, 255-pound freight train, but because he and the team split in August with such rancor.

Artyukhin, who played 72 games for the Lightning in 2005-06 with four goals, 17 points and 90 penalty minutes, turned down its contract offers of one year at $600,000 and two years at $500,000 and $700,000 to play for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the Super League.

Artyukhin's agent, Mark Gandler, said at the time his client would get more playing time in Russia to develop his skills.

Feaster, who said coach John Tortorella assured Artyukhin he'd play in varying situations, said the decision "spits right in our face."

Now, hands are being extended on both sides.

"We'd like to have him back," Feaster said. "We think we'd be in better shape if we had that physical element. He certainly is more than welcome. It's just a matter of getting a deal done."

"I'm sure he'd like to come back," said Todd Diamond, Gandler's business partner and Artyukhin's co-agent. "His dream is to be here. Generally, his feelings about Tampa are all in the positive way."

Artyukhin, 23, has had a tough go in Russia. He began on the fourth line and had just four goals and 12 points in his first 39 games.

His punishing style caused more grief. There are stories of Artyukhin shattering glass with his checks, and he was suspended from the Karjala Cup for what was deemed rough play.

His 159 penalty minutes led the league.

"The new rules in the NHL and Super League are like black and white," Artyukhin said in an article posted on russianprospects.com.

"Physical play is welcomed there while here, any collision is a penalty. ... They penalize me for everything and the lack of body checks takes away from hockey."

"He's just so big and so strong and so powerful, he was getting called for a lot of penalties when they weren't," Diamond said.

As of late, Diamond said, "I think he has been doing a lot better. The referees got used to him."

Still, Feaster said he believes Artyukhin's development "took a giant step backwards."

And there are issues going forward.

Artyukhin is a restricted free agent so the Lightning can match any offers. But Feaster said Artyukhin must come off last year's contract demands that began at $1-million but were reduced to $750,000.

Then there is Tortorella, who when asked about Artyukhin said, "I don't even want to talk about him."

But as Feaster said, noting, for example, the coach's anger at Eric Perrin, who turned down the Lightning in 2005-06 to play for guaranteed money in Europe, "Very few mistakes are fatal from the standpoint of being welcomed back."

Artyukhin's upside doesn't hurt. A terrific skater, his big body and enormous strength are perfect for clogging the slot and distracting goaltenders.

"I played with him three years and every year he got better and better," Craig said. "He's well coordinated and he skates so well, when he hits you, you're not going to stay in the same place."

Guess he made an impression.

Damian Crisodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.