GM Rick Dudley continues to revamp the team, trading Ryan Johnson to Florida.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 11, 2001
Vaclav Prospal didn't have much good to say about his play last season.
Not surprising considering his five goals and 24 assists in 74 games for the Senators and Panthers came one season after he put up career highs of 22 goals and 33 assists for Ottawa.
"It was," he said, "the worst year I ever had."
Which is why Prospal called Tuesday's trade that sent him from Florida to the Lightning for center Ryan Johnson and a sixth-round draft pick in 2003 "a new beginning."
"I want to play the best possible way I can," the center said from his native Czech Republic. "Hopefully that's going to help them and my situation."
Tampa Bay is counting on Prospal, 26, to regain the form he showed in 1999-00. He is not the best skater, but at 6 feet 2, 185 pounds he can be physical and also is good on faceoffs, winning 52.3 percent last season.
Johnson, 25, acquired with Dwayne Hay from the Panthers in March 2000 for Mike Sillinger, had seven goals and 21 points, and was minus-20 as a third- and fourth-line player. He was second on the team in hits.
"I'm the closest thing to speechless I've probably ever been," Johnson said. "It was a shock. I was looking forward to getting back and focusing on what we need to do to take the next steps, and then you're cast in a different situation. But I understand the business and have no regrets and no resentments."
"We're losing a character guy," coach John Tortorella said. "But we're getting a top two-line player who gives us a little more flexibility with our lines."
The deal continues a summer of transition for the Lightning, which has made five trades to acquire players since June 18. And general manager Rick Dudley made it sound like Prospal was the 20-goal forward he said he would acquire.
"We consider him very capable of being a top-two-line center," said Dudley, Ottawa's GM the year before Prospal's breakout season. "He had 22 goals and 55 points two years ago, and it wasn't a fluke. He is a very gifted player. If you give him offensive people to play with, he can do it."
Dudley said he might make two more moves. He said the signing of free-agent defenseman Grant Ledyard is "very likely," and he is looking for a two-way forward. FYI: Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros are not in the mix.
Prospal's acquisition unsettles the mix on the top two lines.
Tortorella said he will "try everything" during training camp to find the right combinations. That includes putting Brad Richards, a center, at right wing on Vinny Lecavalier's line and making Prospal the second-line center. Prospal, who will make $975,000, also could play wing.
"We'll try different things and see what fits," Tortorella said. "But you don't want to get locked in."
He also will be careful not to disrupt Richards' development. The 21-year-old is Tampa Bay's best passer, and though he relishes playing with Lecavalier, his best friend, Tortorella said, "You don't want to be throwing him all over the place and have him lose his game."
That was what happened to Prospal.
He was benched last season in Ottawa, where he had one goal and 12 assists in 40 games and did not always agree with coach Jacques Martin. He asked for a trade, but the change in scenery only marginally changed his luck.
Prospal had four goals and 12 assists in 34 games with the Panthers.
"I was so low with my confidence, it just didn't work out," he said. "I just want to prove to myself that I can get back to playing the way I was a couple of years ago. They're building a team, so everybody will be pulling in one direction. Hopefully I can help them any way I can."
The changing face of the Lightning since June 18.
Juha Ylonen, C
Mathieu Biron, D
Nolan Pratt, D
Tim Taylor, C
Vaclav Prospal, C
Todd Warriner, C
Adrian Aucoin, D
A. Kharitonov, F
K. Freadrich, LW
Nils Ekman, LW
Ryan Johnson, F