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Mishkin's Moments: Lightning Giving Themselves Flexibility to Make Move

by Dave Mishkin / Tampa Bay Lightning
In the past month, the Lightning have parted ways with Radim Vrbata, Vinny Prospal and Evgeny Artyukhin.  Vrbata was sent to Phoenix for forward Todd Fedoruk and defenseman David Hale, Prospal was bought out and just last week, Artyukhin was traded to Anaheim for forward Drew Miller and a third round pick in 2010.

There were some different reasons behind each of the moves. Vrbata was not in the team’s plans for 2009-10 and once he stated his intention to return to the NHL this year, the Lightning summarily traded him.

Prospal had been a valuable player for the Lightning during three separate stints with the team, but his contract, at over $3 million per season, didn’t seem to fit with the Lightning’s overall financial plan.  With the buyout, the team will pay Prospal one-third of his salary for the next six seasons, but gave themselves an immediate savings of $2 million-plus this year.

There’s no question that Artyukhin is a dynamic player – it’s hard to think of another player with his combination of size and speed – but he has yet to find consistency in his game.  He may still blossom into a dominant NHL power forward, but that time has not yet come.  In Miller, the Lightning got a player highly-regarded for his intelligent play and defensive responsibility.  Plus, Miller will make $525,000 next year (and, if he’s sent to the minors, his salary will be $105,000).

And that last point is the common denominator in all three transactions.  In the Phoenix deal, the Lightning saved just less than one-half of Vrbata’s $3 million salary.  They picked up another $475,000 after the Anaheim trade.  Add in the savings this year on the Prospal buyout and the Lightning have opened up about $4 million.

So not only did the Lightning make these moves because they felt that they made sense from a hockey standpoint, they also did them to provide some flexibility as they eyed future moves.  It’s been well documented how the Lightning are seeking another top-six forward.  In bidding adieu to Vrbata, Prospal and Artyukhin, they’ve put themselves in good standing financially to add another key player up front.

On a personal note, I wish all three of the departed players nothing but the best.  I’ve known Vinny Prospal since he was a teenager playing with Hershey (AHL) and he’s one of the most likable people in the game.  I was glad to see him sign with the Rangers, where he’ll play for coach John Tortorella.

Artyukhin, too, is a nice fellow (and it’s easy to feel that way if you never have to be on the receiving end of one of his checks). Even though he spent the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons in Russia, his English had improved dramatically once he returned to the NHL last year.  That’s a credit to him.  I hope it all does come together for him on the West Coast.

And the same goes for Vrbata, whom I first met when he was a 20-year-old rookie in Hershey.  He did score 27 goals two years ago for Phoenix and maybe a return to the place where he had success will help him rediscover his scoring touch.

We’ll close with a couple of fan questions …

Hi Dave.  My name is Mher Nahabedian, I'm a Lightning Fan. Is there any chance this year that Tampa will pick up another top-six forward?  I’m hearing about the rumors on Alex Tanguay. I think he'll be a great fit for us, along with Lecavalier and St. Louis, and it'll help Tampa Bay to become a Cup-contending team.

Kind Regards, Mher


As I wrote earlier, the Lightning definitely want to add another top-six forward.  There have been reports about the team’s interest in Tanguay, who would seem to be a great fit on Lecavalier’s line.  It appears that players like Tanguay and Petr Sykora right now are in a waiting game.  Perhaps they’re holding out for better offers or maybe they’re just taking time to weigh their options.  Either way, it’s certain that these UFAs will end up on an NHL team next year.  The question for Lightning fans is – will one of them end up in Tampa Bay?

Dear Dave:

I read your article about the focus groups and was wondering how the participants are chosen.  Also, are surveys ever done by e-mail or at games?  The Tampa Bay Rays randomly select fans during the games.

My husband and I have been watching hockey for 40 years and would love to give our opinions. We are half-season ticket holders and travel to the games from Ocala.
Thank you for your great work!

Stephanie Canary


I wasn’t sure of the exact process, so I forwarded your inquiry to Tom Bradley, Database and Market Research Analyst for the Lightning.  Not only is Tom centrally involved in selecting the focus group participants, but he also has knowledge of any surveys the team has done.  I did know of one survey distributed last year that focused on in-game entertainment, but he knows much more about the specifics than I do. Here’s his response:

“We’ve done surveys in years past and will continue to do them in the future. Some surveys, such as the in-game entertainment questionnaire, were deployed both in-arena (paper ballot-style in certain sections and throughout the arena using PDAs) and online (all season ticket holders should have received the survey in this format).

“Participants are selected based on the subject matter of the survey or focus group. For example, our premium seating focus group was only open to season ticket holders in the premium areas, and an invitation was sent out to that entire group knowing that only a fraction of them would be able to attend. The concessions focus group included season ticket holders on all three levels (plaza, club, terrace), except suites and premium areas since they were covered in other focus groups. For that topic, we tried to evenly invite small groups of people from each level until we reached our capacity of RSVPs for the night.

“As a general rule, a season ticket holder’s best course of action in relaying a question, comment or concern is through his/her account rep. Fans can also contact us using the “Contact Us” link at the bottom of the home page.”

I hope that answers your question, Stephanie.  My thanks to Tom for pinch-hitting on that one!

I do enjoy receiving your questions, so feel free to submit them to Talk to you next week!

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