Confirming a story that broke earlier today, the Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed prospect center Blair Jones and right wing Lauri Tukonen, Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton announced today.
Jones, whose 3 year entry-level contract expired at the end of last season, finished as the Norfolk Admiralsâ€™ second leading scorer last season and was the only player to appear in all 80 games. The Lightning acquired Tukonenâ€™s rights from the Dallas Stars last November in exchange for defenseman Andrew Hutchinson.
Jones, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound native of Central Butte, Saskatchewan, set career highs with 20 goals, 34 assists and 54 points in 80 games for the Admirals last season. He ranked second in scoring, fourth in goals, second in assists and tied for second in power play goals (8) with Norfolk. He also established a new AHL Admirals franchise record with 271 shots on goal, ranking third in the American Hockey League. The 22 year old center has appeared in 155 games with the Admirals over the past two seasons, tallying 34 goals and 96 points. He ranks 12th all-time in AHL Admirals scoring and is just four points away from becoming the tenth player to record 100 points in his AHL Admirals career. Jones has appeared in 200 career AHL contests between Norfolk and the Springfield Falcons, recording 39 goals and 117 points. Jones was originally selected by Tampa Bay in the fourth round (102nd overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He has appeared in 24 career National Hockey League contests with the Lightning, recording one goal and three points.
Tukonen, a 6-foot-2, 198-pound native of Hyvinkaa, Finland, skated in 35 games in the Finnish Elite League last season. He scored five goals and 13 points in 21 games with Ilves Tampere while netting three goals and eight points in 14 games with Lukko Rauma. Originally drafted 11th overall by Los Angeles in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Tukonen, 22, has skated in five career games with the Kings (2006-07 and 2007-08). He has appeared in 185 career American Hockey League games with the Manchester Monarchs, tallying 36 goals, 103 points and 74 penalty minutes. Tukonen skated in three World Junior Championships for Finland from 2004-2006, collecting Bronze Medals in 2004 and 2006. In 2006, he finished third in tournament scoring with three goals and 10 points in seven games.
The Tampa Bay Lightning signed defenseman Victor Hedman to a standard three-year rookie contract today, Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton announced. Hedman was selected by the Lightning with the second overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the first time in franchise history Tampa Bay has picked second overall. Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune is reporting that the contract has an annual salary of $900,000 (rookie max) with bonuses and incentives pushing the NHL cap hit of the contract to $3.75M annually. The NHL requires bonuses and incentives to count against the salary cap regardless of whether the team actually pays them out to the player.
"We are thrilled to be able to take this next step with Victor today,â€ said Lawton upon making the announcement. "He has a bright future and we intend on him being a member of the Lightning for a long time. We are excited to get his signing behind us so he can solely focus on hockey and the continued development of his game.â€
At yesterday's press conference introducing Hedman to the media prior to the start of the Lightning prospects camp, Hedman elected to wear jersey #77 in honor of famed NHL defenseman Ray Bourque.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed defenseman Lukas Krajicek to a one-year contract today, Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton announced. Terms of the restricted free agent's deal was not released, but Lawton indicated during the NHL Entry Draft in Montreal last weekend that the sides were close on a deal. The Lightning acquired Krajicek with Juraj Simek from Vancouver in exchange for Shane Oâ€™Brien and Michel Ouellet on October 6, 2008.
â€œLukas is one of the elite skating defensemen in the NHL and he played admirably for us last season in a difficult blueline situation,â€ said Lawton. â€œWe are pleased to sign him for the 2009-10 season and we look forward to seeing for training camp.â€
Krajicek, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound native of Prostejov, Czech Republic, played in 71 games with the Lightning last season, recording two goals and 19 points. He led all Tampa Bay defensemen in assists and points while also ranking second in blocked shots with 90. His 71 games played were the second-most played during a season in his career. In 2008-09 Krajicek established career highs for assists, points and average ice time with 19:37.
Further bolstering their defensive corps via free agency, the Lightning have signed stay-at-home veteran backliner Matt Walker. Walker played one year for the Chicago Blackhawks last season after spending 8 years in the St. Louis Blues organization. Walker has 2 goals, 23 assists, and 354 penalty minutes in 240 career NHL games.
â€œMatt [Walker] is the big, physical, intimidating presence that we lacked on the blue line last season,â€ said Lawton upon making the announcement today. â€œHe is a high-character, team-first player and he demonstrated that last season, going right back in a playoff game after suffering an ugly, ugly broken finger. He is just the type of player that we were looking for to fill a specific defensive need.â€
TSN.ca is reporting that the Tampa Bay Lightning have struck first in this year's NHL free agency by signing free agent veteran Swedish defenseman Mattias Ohlund to a 7-year, $26.5M contract. A Swedish-born veteran defenseman seems like the perfect fit for a team that not only struggled last season without a veteran presence on the blueline, but also just drafted Swedish defensive phenom Victor Hedman.
â€œWe are thrilled Mattias [Ohlund] elected to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning today,â€ said Lawton upon making the announcement. â€œWith so many options in front of him, having him elect to play in Tampa demonstrates the faith he has in our teamâ€™s strategy and vision for success, which should be exciting for our fans. This signing accomplished two primary goals for us. First, we have added the top-two defenseman we coveted to lead our blue line and second, we have found a leader and a mentor for Victor Hedman as he prepares to play in the NHL this fall.â€
Ohlund is a 12 year veteran of the Vancouver Canucks, drafted by the Vancouver 13th overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. In 770 career regular season games, Ohlund has 93 goals and 232 assists for 325 points. He the leads the franchise all-time for defencemen in goals and points.
Players receiving qualifying offers were defensemen Lukas Krajicek, Matt Smaby, Matt Lashoff and Mike Lundin; forwards Martins Karsums, Blair Jones, Radek Smolenak and Lauri Tukonen; and goaltender Karri Ramo. Both Smolenak and Ramo have signed contracts to play in the KHL next season.
Czech Hockey site hockejportal.cz is reporting that Avangard Omsk of the KHL has signed Lightning goaltender Karri Ramo to a two-year contract. Terms of the agreement are not known at this time, or whether Ramo has an NHL "out" in the contract.
Ramo's three-year entry-level contract with the Lightning expired at the end of the season and remains an NHL restricted free agent with Tampa holding his rights provided that the team issues a qualifying offer prior to the June 29th deadline. The Lightning have also lost forwards Radek Smolenak and Johan Harju to KHL contracts earlier in the summer. At this point, one might be led to speculate that a general lack of attention to prospect signings might be occuring in the vacuum left when the Lightning decided not to renew the contract of AGM Claude Loiselle.
BoltProspects contacted the Lightning for a comment about the Ramo signing but the team indicated they are not issuing any kind of formal statement at this time.
Damian Crisdotero of the St. Pete Times has confirmed with Ramo's agent that Ramo has signed a deal with Omsk. The deal includes an out clause that will allow Ramo to leave Russia after one season, but Ramo is indeed gone for the 2009-2010 campaign.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Ramo's agent is Mark Gandler, of Evgeny Artyukhin contract squabble fame.
According to a Regina, SASK based sports blog, rodpederson.com, the Tampa Bay Lightning are considering hiring Regina's Jamie Heward as a player/assistant coach, presumably with their AHL affiliate in Norfolk.
Not sure how reliable this news is, as technically the Toronto Maple Leafs retain Heward's rights until July 1. However, it is possible the Leafs could have given the Lightning permission to speak with Heward, but that seems doubtful considering the public sparring that has gone on between the GMs of the two clubs over Tampa's #2 overall pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft later this month.
Heward was an anchor for the Norfolk blueline early last season before injuries in Tampa led to his recall and eventual season-ending head injury from a controversial check by Capitals megastar Alexander Ovechkin. Controversy continued around Heward when the Lighting traded him along with injured goalie Olaf Kolzig, prospect bust Andy Rogers, and a 2009 draft pick to the Leafs at the trade deadline. Though approved by the league, the trade was heralded by pundits and fans as a rather obvious deal by Leafs GM Brian Burke to "purchase" a draft pick from the Lightning.
In just a few short hours, the two year run of goaltender Torrie Jung and defenseman Michael Ward as Tampa Bay Lightning prospects could end. As 2007 draftees out of Canadian juniors, both players are facing a June 1 deadline to be signed to entry level contracts by the Lightning or be returned to the 2009 NHL entry draft later this month in Montreal. The Lighting have already signed fellow 2007 draftees Dana Tyrell and Mitch Fadden, along with 2008 draftee Dustin Tokarski to three-year rookie contracts. Jung, who had a spectacular comeback season for the Edmonton Oil Kings, has seemingly played well enough to earn a contract, but faces considerable depth in the Lightning system behind Mike Smith, Karri Ramo, Riku Helenius, and the highly touted Tokarski. Ward, while showing a more pedestrian development and is considered somewhat of a longshot to earn a contract, would seemingly benefit from a general lack of blueline depth in the Lightning system.
Defenseman John Wessbecker, a 2007 NCAA draftee out of the University of Massachusettes-Amherst, faces an August 15 deadline as a graduating senior to sign an entry level contract or be released as an unrestricted free agent.
According to a story released today on the team's official website, the Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the KHL have signed Lightning left wing prospect Radek Smolenak to a contract for next season. Smolenak's three-year entry level contract with the Lightning expired at the end of this season, although Tampa could retain his NHL rights as restricted free agent by tendering a qualifying offer.
Smolenak seemed poised to push for a roster position next season with the Lightning next season after having a breakout season with Tampa's AHL minor league affiliate the Norfolk Admirals. Smolenak posted career highs in nearly every statistical category by posting 24 goals and 25 assists in 71 AHL games while amassing 165 penalty minutes. Smolenak recorded 1 assist in 6 games with the Lightning during a brief mid-season recall.
There is no word regarding the length of the contract Smolenak signed with the Petrochemists or whether the contract contains an "NHL out", and there is no word yet whether Tampa intends to retain his rights by tendering a qualifying offer to the tough left winger. Hat tip to the members of the BoltProspects message board for the heads-up on this story.