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By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published January 29, 2008
TAMPA - As soon as the phrase "trade deadline" was spoken, Vinny Prospal gave a worried nod.
The left wing knows if the Lightning falls out of the playoff race and decides to shed payroll, potential unrestricted free agents such as himself likely will be first to go.
"I'm not going to deny it. I know stuff can happen," Prospal said Monday. "I'm hoping for a big winning streak to get ourselves into the playoffs so we all stay here."
Tampa Bay, which faces the Sabres tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum, better make it quick.
The Feb. 26 deadline is one month away, and general manager Jay Feaster has said if the team is out of the playoff hunt, "We have to make sure we don't lose assets and get nothing in return."
That means potential unrestricted free agents such as Prospal, goalie Johan Holmqvist, forwards Chris Gratton and Jan Hlavac and even defenseman Dan Boyle, all of whom could hit the open market July 1, could be trade bait.
Think it's a coincidence the Stars and Blackhawks have heavily scouted Tampa Bay?
"It's a difficult time," Graton said. "The trade deadline is always tough on players. There's a lot of buildup. But our job is to focus on hockey and not worry about the other stuff."
Gratton and Boyle have no-trade clauses, meaning they must approve any deal. But that doesn't make things any easier.
"I try not to pay attention to it," Gratton said. "We're trying to stay focused and trying to climb back into the playoff race and worry about the task at hand."
Would he waive his no-trade clause as he did when traded to Tampa Bay from the Panthers?
"You have to wait and see," he said. "I was thankful to get the opportunity to come back here. I've made it known I don't want to leave. But you always want to do what's best for the franchise."
"Ask me in a month," Boyle said. "The last thing I want to do is talk about getting traded. I want to concentrate on playing well and helping this team turn things around. That's my focus."
The Lightning's long-term focus is acquiring a No. 1 goaltender, perhaps by a summer trade or free agency. Moves made now could help create payroll space.
Still, depending on the budget set by owner Palace Sports & Entertainment or would-be owner Oren Koules, more space could be needed. Does that mean trading one of the Big Three? It would not be easy.
Vinny Lecavalier, perhaps the league's best player, is the face of the franchise. Brad Richards' $7.8-million salary and no-trade clause make him difficult to move, and Marty St. Louis' age, 32, might make suitors wary.
"I don't think about it,"St. Louis said. "I have a no-trade clause. If there ever was a time they ask me to waive it, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I'm just thinking about winning. That is what everybody should think about. If you're winning games, the stress isn't there."
And if the team is in the playoff race, a lot of trade talk goes away, at least until the summer.
"Everybody understands the situation we're in," coach John Tortorella said. "It falls on everybody as far as which way we're going to go, and we're not sure yet. So, if you grind through the problems we've had and find a way to get in, you end up keeping people around."
And Prospal doesn't have to worry.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.
[Last modified January 29, 2008, 01:14:11]