Tampa Bay walks from Stillman's arbitration award

Updated: August 16, 2004, 5:06 PM ET
Associated Press

Vaclav Prospal is returning to the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and will likely take the spot of forward Cory Stillman, who replaced him a year ago.

Valclav Prospal

Prospal was reacquired from the Mighty Ducks on Monday for a second-round pick in the 2005 draft. He led the Lightning with 79 points in the 2002-03 season but then left as an unrestricted free agent.

The Lightning offered Prospal a five-year deal worth $2.75 million per season, but Prospal passed that up in favor of Anaheim's five-year offer of $2.5 million a season plus a $4 million signing bonus. It was unclear when the teams submitted their offers.

Tampa Bay will not give the Mighty Ducks any money to offset the signing bonus Prospal received last season.

"We are extremely pleased to welcome Vinnie Prospal back to Tampa," Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said. "As I said at the time, I never wanted to see him leave. Vinnie is a dynamic, versatile player who has demonstrated a real connection playing with Vincent Lecavalier. We expect the two of them to pick up where they left off in terms of career years for each of them."

Stillman was scheduled to have an arbitration hearing with the Lightning on Sunday, but team spokesman Bill Wickett told The Associated Press that Stillman and Feaster worked out a deal Thursday that would have the forward receive a $3.9 million award from an arbiter -- the amount the Lightning expected he would be given following a hearing.

The Lightning decided to walk away from the award, making Stillman an unrestricted free agent. Stillman can now work out a new deal with any NHL team, or return to Tampa Bay within seven days by agreeing to the team's qualifying offer of $2.75 million, the same amount he earned last season.

Stillman, acquired from St. Louis in June 2003, was a solid contributor in his lone season with the Lightning. He had 25 goals and 55 assists for 80 points -- second only on the club to Martin St. Louis, the NHL scoring champion. In Tampa Bay's run to its first Stanley Cup title, Stillman had two goals and five assists.

Now Prospal will take the spot alongside Lecavalier, who scored 55 goals in the two seasons he and Prospal were teammates.

With Anaheim, Prospal was second on the club with 54 points -- including 19 goals. The Mighty Ducks, however, went from Western Conference champions in 2003 to out of the playoffs a year later.

"This move gives us the opportunity to continue working toward changing the mix of our team," Anaheim interim GM Al Coates said. "The trade also allows us some flexibility going forward in terms of evaluating the young talent in our own system, or from an outside acquisition."

In 161 games with the Lightning, Prospal had 40 goals and 134 points. Over his career, that also included stops with Philadelphia, Ottawa and Florida, the 29-year-old center has 107 goals and 348 points in 549 NHL games.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press