Malone gives Bolts more options for Lecavalier; Oilers boost blue line
In what seems like a blink of an eye, the Tampa Bay Lightning have gone from hockey curiosity to mover and shaker.
Edmonton boosts blue line
In other pre-free agency news, the Edmonton Oilers took a big step toward returning to playoff contention themselves by adding veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky from Los Angeles for defenseman Matt Greene and forward Jarret Stoll.
Although he had only 41 points and was minus-18 on a bad Kings team last season, Visnovsky is a proven point producer. During the 2006-07 season, he was eighth among defensemen with 58 points; the season before, he was fourth with 67 points. If Sheldon Souray can stay healthy (he played in just 26 games last season), the two should help an Oilers power play that was 21st overall last season.
With the emergence of young forwards Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson, Stoll, 26, became expendable. The center will be expected to help shoulder some of the offensive weight for the Kings, who dealt center Mike Cammalleri to Calgary during the draft. He could become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2008-09 season.
The Kings also added another young piece to their stellar defensive corps in Greene, 25. The 6-foot, 224-pound product of the University of North Dakota played 46 games for the Oilers last season, but he was also deemed expendable with the emergence of rookie defenseman Tom Gilbert.
-- Scott Burnside
The Lightning's brash new owners continue to reshape their front office while making significant pre-free agency roster moves, signing top power forward Ryan Malone to a seven-year deal and then acquiring the rights to hard-shooting veteran forward Brian Rolston from the Minnesota Wild over the weekend.
The team also locked up veteran forward Gary Roberts for one year and hired highly respected talent evaluator and former NHL defenseman Tom Kurvers as the team's assistant general manager. Kurvers will replace Claude Loiselle.
Tampa Bay also hired Malone's father, veteran scout and former NHL forward Greg Malone, as the team's director of pro scouting.
What will happen to GM Jay Feaster, who is no longer involved in hockey decisions under owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, remains to be seen.
The Lightning previously introduced former agent Brian Lawton as the new team's vice president of hockey operations and former ESPN analyst and L.A. Kings coach Barry Melrose as their new bench boss.
Ryan Malone was expected to garner in excess of $5 million per season on the free-agent market, which opens Tuesday, but after acquiring his signing rights from Pittsburgh on Saturday, the Lightning managed to extend the term to seven years and lower the annual cap hit to $4.5 million in locking up the forward.
A source close to the team denied the contract was heavily front-loaded. The Penguins will receive a third-round pick in next year's draft.
"I just didn't want us to get lost in the shuffle," Koules told ESPN.com Saturday night before the Malone deal was done. "I think we have a lot to offer."
Roberts, 42, also signed a one-year deal at $1.2 million with bonuses and will be counted on to provide additional leadership for a team that seemed to lose its cohesion en route to a last-place finish last season.
Malone, 27, had a breakout season for the Penguins with 27 regular-season goals and 16 postseason points as Pittsburgh advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1992. Along with newly reacquired forward Vaclav Prospal, who signed a three-year deal worth $14 million, the Lightning now have a number of options at wing for top center Vincent Lecavalier and No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos, who will likely fill the second center role in Tampa this fall.
Malone will be expected to contribute on both the power play, which ranked fifth overall a year ago, and, perhaps more importantly, on the penalty kill, which was 18th overall.
Now, the team will turn its attention to Rolston, whose contract talks with Minnesota recently stalled. Lightning officials talked to Rolston on Sunday evening after acquiring his rights and planned to follow up Monday in the hopes of bringing the 35-year-old with the booming slap shot under contract. The Lightning gave up a conditional draft pick in either 2009 or 2010 for the rights to talk exclusively with Rolston prior to July 1.
If they can sign Rolston, the Lightning will have made dramatic changes to a team that many figured to be a number of years away from playoff contention.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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