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Lightning to honor Vinny Lecavalier Oct. 18 vs. Panthers

Vinny Lecavalier, the Lightning's No. 1 overall pick in 1998, spent 14 of  his 17 NHL seasons in Tampa Bay.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Vinny Lecavalier, the Lightning's No. 1 overall pick in 1998, spent 14 of his 17 NHL seasons in Tampa Bay.

Former Lightning Vinny Lecavalier was a surprised guest at Sunday's Fan Fest, getting a standing ovation from the crowd of season ticket holders as he was introduced.

Lecavalier, 36, had a big smile on his face.

"It's nice to see them again," Lecavalier said.

Lecavalier will get to see more on Oct. 18, when the Lightning plans to honor the former face of the franchise before the game against the Florida Panthers. The club hasn't said yet whether Lecavalier's No. 4 will be retired (a possibility), but it should be a special night.

"It means a lot," Lecavalier said. "I spent 14 years. The fans, they're clapping, they seem happy to seee me. It's pretty cool."

Lecavalier, the Lightning's No. 1 overall pick in 1998, spent 14 of  his 17 NHL seasons in Tampa Bay. He retired after finishing last season with the Kings. "It's weird, when I got that email about the alumni meetings, that's when I'm really like, 'It's all over," he quipped. …

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Lightning pushes pace early in camp

Lightning center Brian Boyle's practice ended a little early Saturday after the heel of defenseman Braydon Coburn's stick blade caught him in the nose during a 1-on-1 drill.

Boyle was fine - no hard feelings - just some pain and blood on his jersey.

"It's going to happen sometimes," Boyle said, smiling. "The guys had a good chuckle out of it."

But the friendly fire Saturday is just an example of how intense, and fast-paced, the first part of Lightning training camp has been. Associate coach Rick Bowness

told the team it'd be a tough camp, hoping to get them up to the same speed as the 12 players who have already seen game action at at the World Cup.

Mission accomplished.

"Skating-wise, conditioning on ice, this is by far the hardest camp in my 12 years," veteran defenseman James Wisniewski said. "They said guys are playing games, you've got to rock and roll...
"I don't even know if you work this hard in a game." …

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Tyler Johnson wishes he could have played for USA

Lightning center Tyler Johnson didn't take to Twitter - like the Penguins Phil Kessel famously did - to express his disappointment in Team USA's performance in the World Cup.

But after the Americans wrapped up an 0-for-3 tournament Thursday in a loss to the Czech Republic, Johnson said he wished he could have helped.

"I think everyone can say they're disappointed at the fact that they didn't do as well as they probably could have," Johnson said." I wish I could have been there. I wish I could have played, but that's their decision. That's what's great about our country is we have a lot of good players, good quality players. They went one route, so hopefully next time I'm playing better so I can make it."

Johnson didn't have his best season last year, with 14 goals and 38 points, largely due to a nagging wrist injury that sapped his strength. Team USA, which emphasized grit over skill in building its team, left Johnson off its roster, and didn't choose him when teammate Ryan Callahan (hip surgery) had to pull out in June.

USA lost to Europe, Canada and Czech Republic, drawing sharp criticism from some American players. …

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Unique Lightning camp provides opportunity

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman admitted it was a bit strange Thursday morning when training camp opened without 12 regulars, who were at the World Cup.

"You're looking around, 'Where's Stammer? Where's Heddy?" Yzerman said of captain Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. "From that sense, it's a little different."

But as the coaching staff held its first meeting with what's left of the team, they issued a challenge to others to take advantage of a rare opportunity.

"They're going to get looks that they normally wouldn't get," said associate coach Rick Bowness, who is running camp while Jon Cooper is at World Cup with Team North America. "Players make those decisions for you with their effort and their play on the ice."

The most notable beneficiaries are the likes of former Lightning forward Cory Conacher, re-signed over the summer, and veteran defenseman James Wisniewski, who is in on a camp tryout. Yzerman noted Wisniewski, 32 who fills a need as a right-shot on the power play, should get a lot of playing time in preseason with four defensemen at World Cup. "We're going to give  him a very good chance to make this team," Yzerman said. …

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Yzerman on Kucherov: 'We want him here'

Nikita Kucherov, 23, led the Lightning in points last season, and in the playoffs.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Nikita Kucherov, 23, led the Lightning in points last season, and in the playoffs.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he's in "constant communication" with Nikita Kucherov's representatives, and is hoping to get the touted wing signed "as soon as possible."

But while the goal is to get Kucherov, a restricted free agent, signed by the time he returns from the World Cup of Hockey, Yzerman indicated "that may or may not happen right away."

Kucherov, 23, led the Lightning in points last season, and in the playoffs. Playing for Russia in the World Cup, it's unknown if Kucherov would report to training camp without a deal. But Yzerman doesn't anticipate it being a distraction for the team.

"We want him here," Yzerman said. "He's a tremendous player, a popular player on the team. Being young, he's still one of our leaders on our team. We want to get him here as soon as possible. It takes time."

Yzerman said he's also hopeful to get a deal done with the other remaining restricted free agent, defenseman Nikita Nesterov.

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Contract or not, Kucherov enjoys World Cup

Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning's leading scorer last season, is still unsigned.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning's leading scorer last season, is still unsigned.

Wing Nikita Kucherov isn't interested in talking about his contract, or lack thereof.

But the restricted free agent certainly took notice this summer when the Lightning locked up teammates Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman for eight-year deals.

"It's great that Tampa is keeping everybody," Kucherov said after Russia's practice Wednesday at the World Cup of Hockey. "It's a great chance to go on another run at the Stanley Cup. I'm just happy for Stammer and Heddy signing in Tampa for the next 8-10."

Kucherov, 23, would love to be in that spot. But the fact Kucherov, the team's leading scorer last season, is still unsigned is one of the biggest unanswered questions facing the Lightning as opens training camp Thursday at Amalie Arena. General manager Steve Yzerman has said he hopes to get a deal with Kucherov before the Russian returns from the World Cup. But Yzerman said Wednesday there's nothing new with negotiations. A deal doesn't appear imminent.

It's not easy. Kucherov could warrant in the six-year, $36 million range Filip Forsberg signed with the Predators, maybe more. The Lightning should have between $5-$6 million in cap room for this season. …

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Jonathan Drouin: 'It's up to me to be better'

Jonathan Drouin, right, didn't see much ice in Monday's loss to Russia, just 9 minutes, 59 seconds overall, as coach Todd McLellan wasn't completely happy with his play.

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Jonathan Drouin, right, didn't see much ice in Monday's loss to Russia, just 9 minutes, 59 seconds overall, as coach Todd McLellan wasn't completely happy with his play.

Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin was one of the last to leave the ice after Wednesday's brief practice by Team North America.

Some of his teammates had already hit the showers, superstar captain Connor McDavid was holding court with the media.  But Drouin remained, stickhandling, shooting on an empty net.

Drouin didn't see much ice in Monday's 4-3 loss to Russia, just 9 minutes, 59 seconds overall, as coach Todd McLellan wasn't completely happy with his play. Only Dylan Larkin played less (5:33). And Drouin knows he'll have to bounce back in Wednesday's must-win showdown with Sweden in the World Cup of Hockey.

"It's up to me to be better," Drouin said. "We have such a good team, so when things weren't really rolling, coach shortened the bench. I just have to be better."

Drouin skated on the fourth line Tuesday with Sabres' Jack Eichel and J.T. Miller (one heck of a fourth line), which speaks to the level of talent on this 23-and-under team. Eichel himself saw his ice time dwindle, just eight minutes on even strength, with Brandon Saad at 11:34. McLellan said Drouin needed to do a better job at getting the puck to the net, attempting shots, especially against a furious Russian attack. …

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Backup or not, Ben Bishop benefits from World Cup

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop has played just two exhibition periods for Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey, and will likely remain the backup Thursday as the Americans face elimination against host and favorite Canada.

But Bishop, 29, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, understands the situation, with two-time Stanley Cup winner and former Olympian Jonathan Quick (Kings) the No. 1.

"You try to go out there and play the best you can and make it tough on the coaches, and obviously they made their decision," Bishop said. "(Quick) is one of the best in the world so you're not going to argue with anything like that."

Bishop said he's still gained a lot from the experience, facing the likes of MVP Patrick Kane in practice. "You've got to be sharp or they're going to make you look silly," he said.

And, more importantly, Bishop is encouraged with how his ankle has held up after spraining ligaments in the Eastern Conference Final.

"Everything feels pretty good," Bishop said. "I'm ready to go." …

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Stamkos: Johnson would 'excel' on World Cup stage

Tyler Johnson, a former All-Star, was left off Team USA's original roster.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tyler Johnson, a former All-Star, was left off Team USA's original roster.

The Lightning have an NHL-high 12 players in this World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, not to mention head coach Jon Cooper.

But there are some who also think there could be at least one more: center Tyler Johnson.

Johnson, a former All-Star, was left off Team USA's original roster. And after Lightning wing Ryan Callahan had to pull out of the tournament due to hip surgery, Johnson was passed over as a replacement over Devils wing Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri, a 30-goal scorer, was a healthy scratch in Saturday's stunning 3-0 loss to Europe.

Team USA put an emphasis on grit for this tournament, but after getting shut out in its last three games (including the last two at Sochi Olympics), Johnson might have come in handy. Johnson, who played for USA at the 2014 World Championships, has 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists) in 47 playoff games.

"He's a great player, he's been a producer in big time moments," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who is on Team Canada. "You'd think a tournament like this would be the type of stage where he'd excel. But again, that's a question you'll have to ask (Team USA) management."

 

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Ryan Callahan launches foundation for pediatric cancer

After wing Ryan Callahan signed a six-year, $34.8 million deal with the Lightning in June 2014, he wanted to try to find a way to give back to a Tampa Bay community that has felt like home for the Rochester, N.Y, native.

And with Callahan, 31, and his wife, Kyla, raising two young daughters, Charlotte, 4, and Evelyn, 2, a cause soon became clear: pediatric cancer. Kyla's family had been impacted by the cancer, which will be the focus of the Ryan Callahan Foundation, officially launched Friday.

Callahan had already created "Cally's Crew," inviting pediatric cancer patients and their families to Lightning home games in his suite the past two seasons. That will remain, as will a "2-4" Club, make-a-wish type of trip, all-expenses paid, granted to a selected child and his family each month. Callahan's foundation will also work to fundraise, and create awareness.

In talking to Callahan last season about it, he explained what inspired Cally's Crew, which he hoped would also create a support system for those impacted. …

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Lightning releases camp roster and schedule

Defenseman James Wisniewski, left, speaks with Tyler Johnson Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Defenseman James Wisniewski, left, speaks with Tyler Johnson Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.

The Lightning's training camp will have a much different feel, with 12 players (and coach Jon Cooper) away in Toronto for the World Cup of Hockey.

But for the rest, camp opens Thursday, Sept. 22 at Amalie Arena with testing. The first day on the ice for players is Friday Sept. 23 at 8:30 a.m., with three practice groups named Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards.

There are 11 invitees, headlined by veteran defenseman James Wisniewski. The others include forwards Alexandre Alain (Gatineau – QMJHL), Lane Scheidl (Kalamazoo – ECHL) and Ryan Verbeek (Kingston – OHL), defensemen Adam Comrie (Lehigh Valley – AHL, Reading – ECHL), Sean O’Rourke (Ferris State – WCHA, Kalamazoo – ECHL), Charlie Vasaturo (Kalamazoo – ECHL), Ben Wilson (Kalamazoo – ECHL), goaltenders Mark Grametbauer (Blainville-Boisbriand – QMJHL, Gatineau – QMJHL), Joel Martin (Kalamazo – ECHL) and Nicola Riopel (Rapid City – ECHL, Norfolk – ECHL).

Most practices will be held at Amalie Arena and closed to the public. The exceptions are Fan Fest on Sept. 25 (scrimmages begin at 10:30 am), Oct. 3, 4 in Estero (Germain Arena) and Oct 10, 12 in Brandon. The first exhibition game is Sept. 27 against Carolina at Amalie Arena.

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James Wisniewski ready to 'earn' spot with Lightning

James Wisniewski could provide a low-risk, high-reward solution for an immediate need: a right-shot defenseman who can spark the power play.

DIRK SHADD | Times

James Wisniewski could provide a low-risk, high-reward solution for an immediate need: a right-shot defenseman who can spark the power play.

(Continuing blog series on "Questions for Lightning Camp")

This was a strange, and long, summer for James Wisniewski.

Wisniewski, 32, is an 11-year NHL veteran, so watching free agency go by without a contract offer was surprising.

"Not something I'm used to," he said.

But that's also why Wisniewski, signed to a camp tryout with the Lightning Aug. 10, was one of the early arrivals at the team's informal skates at Brandon's Ice Sports Forum. Wisniewski, who missed last season after tearing his left ACL in his first game with Carolina, entered Wednesday carrying a red Hurricanes bag over his shoulder.

And Wisniewski hopes he can end camp wearing Lightning blue.

"This is probably the most excited I've ever been coming into a training camp," Wisniewski said. …

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Tyler Johnson reports 'stronger than I've ever been'

Tyler Johnson came to life in January, finishing with 14 goals, then seven in the postseason, buoying the Lightning into the Eastern Conference Final.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tyler Johnson came to life in January, finishing with 14 goals, then seven in the postseason, buoying the Lightning into the Eastern Conference Final.

Tyler Johnson had alluded to the fact that his right wrist - broken during the 2015 Stanley Cup Final - bothered him at the beginning of last season.

On Tuesday, we found out just how much.

"I had no strength, didn't really have flexibility," Johnson, 26, said upon reporting to the Lightning's informal skates in Brandon. "It took me a long time to be able to do anything. It was pretty much about January I could finally do a push-up."

That could explain why Johnson, a 29-goal scorer in his 2014-15 All-Star season, began last season in a 12-game goal drought, tallying just four in his first 29 games. Johnson, not so coincidentally, came to life in January, finishing with 14 goals, then seven in the postseason, buoying the Lightning into the Eastern Conference Final. Even then, Johnson felt there was "another level" he could have reached.

Johnson said there are no excuses, he has to be "way better." And now, after a healthy offseason filled with regular workouts instead of rehab, he's ready.

"I finished the summer stronger than I've ever been," Johnson said. "I can't wait for this season to start, to really show what I can do." …

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Yzerman: Lightning could keep both goalies all season

Ben Bishop has been the subject of trade speculation this summer, especially around the June NHL Draft.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ben Bishop has been the subject of trade speculation this summer, especially around the June NHL Draft.

With an expansion draft looming, the prevailing assumption is that the Lightning will have to move either goalie Ben Bishop or backup Andrei Vasilevskiy by February's trade deadline.

Not so fast.

"Maybe, maybe not," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told the Times Thursday.

Yzerman said not only does he expect both Bishop and Vasilevskiy to be with the Lightning on opening night Oct. 13, he didn't rule out the possibility he holds on to them both for another run at the Stanley Cup.

"That's certainly an option for us," Yzerman said. "And it's not a bad option."

Bishop, 29, has been the subject of trade speculation this summer, especially around the June NHL Draft, when he felt a deal to the Flames was "close;" Bishop said it got to the point where he even talked contract with Calgary, which eventually acquired Brian Elliott from St. Louis. 

"It looked like for a little bit it was going to happen," Bishop said of a trade to Calgary. …

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Lightning's J.T. Brown speaks out on life 'as a black athlete in the NHL'

Lightning wing J.T. Brown heads out on the Amalie Arena ice for warmups before an April playoff game against the Red Wings.

[DIRK SHADD | Times]

Lightning wing J.T. Brown heads out on the Amalie Arena ice for warmups before an April playoff game against the Red Wings.

Lightning wing J.T. Brown wants to make one thing clear.

"I have no ill will towards John Tortorella," he said.

That doesn't mean Brown, 26, agrees with everything the Team USA coach says. And Brown, 26, an African American, took to Twitter this week to let his voice be heard on Tortorella's statement that he'd bench any Team USA player who didn't stand for the national anthem, like 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has famously done. Kaepernick has kneeled/sat during the anthem in protest of America's treatment of minorities.

"Wouldn't benching a black man for taking a stance only further prove Kap's point of oppression?" Brown tweeted:

 

 

The tweet went viral.

Brown wanted to explain his perspective, which he did Thursday in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.  …

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