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Payroll plans to restrict GM's offseason options
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 26, 2007
TAMPA - General manager Jay Feaster said the Lightning's shrinking payroll next season means it likely will not sign any big-name unrestricted free agents in the summer.
Instead, he said, the free agent pool will be used to acquire support players who will sign two-way contracts at or close to the league's minimum $475,000 salary and compete for spots as Eric Perrin and Doug Janik did this season.
"I just don't see us being a player in the unrestricted market on the NHL level," Feaster said. "We're going to play at the depth player level."
That means any significant acquisitions will be made primarily through trading draft choices and prospects.
"But we'll also evaluate guys who still have time on their contracts here," Feaster said. "It may be there are guys here who at the end of the season maybe we need to move on."
The Lightning has said it plans to hold payroll to $40-million next season, $4-million less than this season's salary cap. Next season's cap has not been determined.
It also wants to retain Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Marty St. Louis and Dan Boyle, who have a combined $23-million cap hit.
Unrestricted free agents the team could lose include forward Ruslan Fedotenko and defenseman Cory Sarich, who this season made a combined $3.5-million.
Other potential unrestricted free agents include Perrin, Janik, Johan Holmqvist, Jason Ward, Nolan Pratt, Luke Richardson and Andreas Karlsson.
Without divulging any plans, Feaster reminded, "Cap space is an asset, too."
DRAFT STRATEGY: Anyone hoping the Lightning will trade up to get an offensive impact player, forget it.
Feaster said a shallow draft means the team would have to get into the top 10, and perhaps the top three, "to have the hope of someone who is going to be an impact player."
And remember, signing those players costs big bucks.
TORTS PRAISES FEASTER: Coach John Tortorella said he has had enough of those who criticize Feaster for doing too little at the trade deadline.
Feaster acquired Ward, playing on the second line and earning penalty-kill time; defenseman Shane O'Brien, an offensive-minded rookie flourishing with Boyle; and wing Karl Stewart, still trying to find his niche.
O'Brien, acquired from the Ducks for goalie prospect Gerald Coleman and a first-round pick, has been solid filling in for the injured Paul Ranger.
"It's a deal that no one knows about," Tortorella said. "It's not a sexy deal, but it helps us.
"Everybody gives Jay expletive about this, that and the other thing. He makes this little deal, and it helps us in a crucial time when we had a major injury."
ODDS AND ENDS: Feaster on O'Brien, a restricted free agent after the season: "We're going to plug him into the blue line and, one way or another, get him signed." ... Richards has one goal in his past 11 games. ... Tuesday's home game with the Panthers is at 7 p.m.