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NHL signings on eve of free agency

by John Kreiser

The Lightning continued their busy offseason on the eve of free agency, which included working out a deal to bring Vaclav Prospal back to Tampa Bay.
With unrestricted free agency hours away, NHL teams spent Monday working to sign their own players and keep them off the market.

The busiest team was the Tampa Bay Lightning, which worked out deals with forwards Gary Roberts and Vaclav Prospal. The Bolts had acquired the rights to both impending free agents for draft picks. Roberts, who helped Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Final, signed a one-year deal. Prospal, who spent most of the season with the Lightning before being dealt to Philadelphia at the trade deadline, will likely be reunited with Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis — the trio were one of the NHL's most productive before the trade.

Tampa Bay has also acquired the rights to two other impending free agents, Ryan Malone from Pittsburgh and Brian Rolston from Minnesota. The Lightning had until midnight EDT to sign both before they became unrestricted free agents.

The Lightning also acquired Finnish defenseman Janne Niskala from Philadelphia for a sixth-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft.

The Lightning weren't the only ones active on the signing front.

Colorado acted to keep two of its top defensemen, signing Adam Foote to a two-year contract and John-Michael Liles to a four-year deal. Foote, who turns 37 on July 10, had one assist in 12 games after being acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline, bringing him back to the team with which he won Stanley Cup rings in 1996 and 2001. The Avs were 9-2-1 with Foote in the lineup.

Liles, 27, topped all Colorado defensemen with 32 points in 2007-08. However, his six goals were a sharp drop from the 14 he scored in each of the two previous seasons, and his point total was the lowest of his four NHL seasons, down from 49 in 2005-06 and 44 in 2006-07.

Florida made a long-term commitment to 2004 first-round pick Rostislav Olesz, signing the 22-year-old forward to a six-year contract. Olesz played in 56 games for the Panthers this past season and scored a career-high 14 goals along with 12 assists for 26 points. In three seasons with Florida, the Czech native has played in 190 games with 33 goals and 77 points. The 6-foot-1, 207-pounder is the 10th Panther player on the roster to have a multi-year contract entering the 2008-09 season.

Detroit retained defenseman Andreas Lilja by re-signing him to a two-year contract. Lilja, who turns 33 on July 13, had two goals and 12 points during the regular season and one assist in 12 playoff games.

San Jose kept forward Jody Shelley by signing him to a two-year deal. The Sharks acquired Shelley, 32, from Columbus for a sixth-round pick in the 2008 Draft on Jan. 29. He had one goal, seven points and 91 penalty minutes in 31 games with the Sharks.

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