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Vasilevskiy likely to get more stints in the AHL

Andrei Vasilevskiy has played in 15 games for the Lightning this season, going 8-5 with 2.73 goals against average.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Andrei Vasilevskiy has played in 15 games for the Lightning this season, going 8-5 with 2.73 goals against average.

Andrei Vasilevskiy may be a No. 1 goalie of the future.

But Vasilevskiy's near-future will likely include some trips back to AHL Syracuse to play for the Crunch, giving the touted prospect an opportunity to play more.

With starter Ben Bishop going to get the lion's share of the starts in Tampa Bay, and very few back-to-back games in coming weeks, coach Jon Cooper said Vasilevskiy could have one, "maybe two'" stints in Syracuse.

Vasilevskiy has played in 15 games for the Lightning this season, going 8-5 with 2.73 goals against average. But Vasilevskiy has just two starts since Jan. 27. He's played in 10 games for the Crunch.

"Vasilevskiy is not immune to going back down to play games," Cooper said. "This is not a situation where he's going down there to stay down there. If we have a situation where Vasilevskiy can go down and play games and come back and play for us, that's what we want. So I wouldn't put that past happening very soon.

"It's tough to sit there for weeks on end and come in and get games. We want thim to play. he's still very much in his development stage. We'd be doing a disservice if we didn't play him as much as we could." …

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After whirlwind callup, Koekkoek expected to get playing time

Slater Koekkoek, a first-round pick in 2012, is expected to step in and help make up for the absence of defenseman Jason Garrison.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Slater Koekkoek, a first-round pick in 2012, is expected to step in and help make up for the absence of defenseman Jason Garrison.

Defenseman Slater Koekkoek certainly took a unique path in his latest callup from AHL Syracuse.

Koekkoek, 21, said he had four plane stops Thursday on his way from Newfoundland to Tampa, with stops in Halifax and Washington D.C. It took him more than 12 hours, leaving at 7:30 a.m. and arriving at 8 p.m, meaning all three meals at the airport.

"A heck of a day," Koekkoek said. "But if it means coming up, I'll do it whenever."

Koekkoek, a first-round pick in 2012, is expected to step in and help make up for the absence of defenseman Jason Garrison, who is out 3-5 weeks with a lower body injury. Koekkoek, who has played in four NHL games the past two seasons, is slated to be scratched tonight, but coach Jon Cooper said he'll get an opportunity.

"He's here for a reason," Cooper said. "Not going to bring Slater up just to sit the bench. He's a young kid that needs to play. If he doesn't play tonight, we'll get him in soon."

Koekkoek, a smooth-skating left-shot defenseman, said having some NHL experience takes away some of the nerves, and he plans to just play his game and earn the coaches' trust. …

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Lightning's Stamkos: Answers will come at the trade deadline

Steven Stamkos is tied for the team-lead with 21 goals, but has one in his last 10 games heading into Friday's matchup with the Predators.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos is tied for the team-lead with 21 goals, but has one in his last 10 games heading into Friday's matchup with the Predators.

If he wanted to, captain Steven Stamkos could sqaush any potential drama leading up until the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

Stamkos has a full no-move clause, meaning he holds all the cards. Even if the Lightning wanted to trade him, the team would need his permission.

So if Stamkos plans to stay with the Lightning at least through the end of the season, like many people expect, he can just say it: I'm not going anywhere.

But Stamkos isn't saying that, at least publicly, indicating the answer will come in 18 days.

"The trade deadline is coming up in a couple weeks, I'm sure everyone will have some answers in a couple weeks when that comes," Stamkos said Thursday. "We've kept everything to ourselves and I know it (stinks) for you guys (media), I totally understand. But I think you can appreciate the way we've conducted doing business and whatever happens in the next couple weeks, there's obviously going to be some answers." …

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Lightning season tickets to increase an average of 7 percent

The Lightning says it has the third lowest average ticket price in the NHL in 2015-16 ($49.33 per game).

Times files (2014)

The Lightning says it has the third lowest average ticket price in the NHL in 2015-16 ($49.33 per game).

The Lightning announced Thursday that season tickets for next season will increase by an average of 7 percent.

The team said some tickets will increase by fewer than 2 percent. With the exception of Chase Club members, no season ticket member will see an increase of of more than $6 per game per seat from 2015-16 to 2016-17. Nearly 30 percent of all seats at Amalie Arena will be priced at $30 or less for season ticket members, with an entry level price point of $21 per game.

There will be no added restrictions next season for re-sale.

The Lightning says it has the third-lowest average ticket price in the NHL in 2015-16 ($49.33 per game). The team is also implementing a "Bolt for Life" program, a payment plan to allow season ticket members the chance to spread out their season ticket commitment over 12 interest free payments.

Also during the renewal process, members will have the opportunity to reserve seats for any potential home playoff game. Members will receive renewal packets from the team later this week.

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Lightning Strikes! podcast: What does the future hold for the team?

Will the Lightning move forward with Ben Bishop, front, or Andrei Vasilevskiy, back, in goal?

DIRK SHADD | Times

Will the Lightning move forward with Ben Bishop, front, or Andrei Vasilevskiy, back, in goal?

The Times' Joe Smith and Chad Scharr from BoltProspects.com discuss the current state of the Lightning, its future, the big decisions it faces -- signing Steven Stamkos, trading Jonathan Drouin, what goalie to pick -- and what prospects are waiting in the wings to impact the club in future seasons. Joe will also answer your questions on what the latest Maple Leafs blockbuster trade means for their potential pursuit of Stamkos. (Scroll down to find the podcast.)

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Bolts lose Jason Garrison for 3–5 weeks to lower body injury

Jason Garrison takes a shot during warmups before a playoff game in Detroit on April 23. Garrison was injured against Ottawa on Monday and missed Tuesday's game.

[DIRK SHADD | Times]

Jason Garrison takes a shot during warmups before a playoff game in Detroit on April 23. Garrison was injured against Ottawa on Monday and missed Tuesday's game.

Defensemen Jason Garrison is expected to miss 3-5 weeks with a lower body injury, a big blow to the Lightning blue line. 

Garrison got hurt Monday against Ottawa and missed Tuesday's game. Losing a top-four defenseman and key penalty killer will be tough for Tampa Bay to replace. 

With Garrison sidelined, veteran Matt Carle is expected to get a chance to play more. The Lightning also called up defenseman Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse. He's expected to be available Friday against Nashville. Koekkoek had four goals and eight assists in 43 games with Syracuse this season.

Koekkoek, a first round pick in 2012, has played in four NHL games the past two seasons.

"He's been up with us before. Kid can really skate, has good gaps," coach Jon Cooper said. "He can play at this level so should be no problem."

But if Tampa Bay hasn't already been targeting a defenseman by Feb 29 trade deadline, it certainly will now. That should be a major area of focus. 

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Garrison injury tough blow to Lightning blueline

Ottawa Senators right wing Bobby Ryan (6) collides with Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison (5) along the boards as left wing Ondrej Palat looks on Monday in Ottawa. [Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP]

Ottawa Senators right wing Bobby Ryan (6) collides with Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison (5) along the boards as left wing Ondrej Palat looks on Monday in Ottawa. [Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP]

The Lightning lost more than just a game Monday night in Ottawa.

It also lost defenseman Jason Garrison, who missed the final two periods with a lower body injury that will keep him out tonight against the Canadiens (and potentially beyond). Garrison, considered day-to-day, will be re-evaluated when the team gets back to Tampa Wednesday.

"We'll know more on Jason when we get home," GM Steve Yzerman said.

It's a tough blow for Tampa Bay, which has had a relatively healthy blue line for most of this season but now is without a top-four defenseman and key penalty killer. Garrison ranks second on the team in blocked shots (76) and fourth in hits (68), his 16:18 average even strength ice time third on the team.

"That's a tough one too, because he's a big minute-munching defenseman for us," coach Jon Cooper said. "A big body and size. Tough when we lost him."

With Garrison playing just four minutes Monday, versatile center Brian Boyle played many shifts on defense, which he's done often the past two years. Garrison's absence likely means veteran Matt Carle will return to the lineup tonight. …

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Are Maple Leafs gearing up to make run at Stamkos?

Steven Stamkos has maintained he wants to stay in Tampa Bay, and still hopes to get a deal done that would keep him with the only franchise he's ever known since getting drafted as an 18-year-old in 2008.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos has maintained he wants to stay in Tampa Bay, and still hopes to get a deal done that would keep him with the only franchise he's ever known since getting drafted as an 18-year-old in 2008.

There's no guarantee that captain Steven Stamkos leaves the Lightning as a free agent this summer.

And if he does, it's still unclear whether Stamkos would even want to play for his hometown Maple Leafs, a rebuilding team in a rabid hockey market.

But it's widely believed the Maple Leafs plan to make a run at Stamkos, if he's available. And Tuesday's blockbuster, nine-player trade with Ottawa that unloaded captain Dion Phaneuf and created cap space certainly sparked speculation that Toronto is gearing up for the potential Stamkos sweepstakes this summer.

"This gives us the opportunity to do things," Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello told reporters. "This was a transaction that certainly wasn't for today."

How about July 1? When Stamkos would become an unrestricted free agent, if he doesn't sign an extension with the Lightning. Tampa Bay has reportedly offered Stamkos a deal with an $8.5 million annual average. …

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Turris relates to Drouin's plight: 'It's a tough, tough go'

While the Lightning will play in Jonathan Drouin's hometown of Montreal Tuesday, the suspended wing continues to work out and skate on his own every day somewhere in the city.

That's been Drouin's routine the past three weeks, since he did not show up for the Jan. 20 game for AHL Syracuse, forcing the indefinite suspension without pay. Drouin, who requested a trade in November, didn't want to suffer a deal-altering injury, so he waits in limbo, with no timetable on when - or if - the No. 3 pick from 2013 gets his desired fresh start.

Drouin has declined interview requests, so it's hard to know exactly what he's thinking.

But it's not a fun situation, according to Senators center Kyle Turris, 26, who went through a somewhat similar saga five years ago. Turris, the No. 3 overall pick in 2007 by the Coyotes, didn't feel he was getting used right in Arizona, requesting a trade in the summer of 2011 and holding out the first six weeks of the season, as an unsigned restricted free agent. …

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Condra to face former team, Bishop won't

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop was one of the last players off the ice at Monday's optional skate, acknowledging to the swarm of Ottawa-based reporters he would not get a chance to face his former team tonight.

"It's been a good run while it lasted," Bishop joked.

Bishop has been dominant against the Senators, which traded him to the Lightning in the spring of 2013, going 8-0-3 with a 2.12 goals against average in 12 career starts. But with Tampa Bay having a back-to-back, Bishop would only start one of the games, and that'll be Tuesday against the Canadiens. G Andrei Vasilevskiy gets the nod tonight.

"Obviously you'd like to start (against Ottawa)," Bishop said. "But, at the same time, you realize the situation with the back-to-back, it's probably one or the other. It's (coach Jon Cooper's) decision, not mine. So whenever I get the nod, I'll go out and play well."

Bishop also has great numbers against Montreal (10-1-3, 1.62 GAA in 15 games), not including the playoff series victory last season. …

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Lightning's Paquette: 'It's just not my year'

Cedric Paquette has had some bad luck, missing a good chunk of the season due to a right foot/ankle injury suffered blocking a shot during the preseason and then reaggravated in November.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Cedric Paquette has had some bad luck, missing a good chunk of the season due to a right foot/ankle injury suffered blocking a shot during the preseason and then reaggravated in November.

During Thursday's practice, center Cedric Paquette took a slap shot off his left shin and buckled to the ice.

After getting helped off to the dressing room, Paquette would return after practice at the Ice Sports Forum ended, drawing a large ovation from teammates.

"It's just not my year," he said afterwards.

Paquette has had some bad luck, missing a good chunk of the season due to a right foot/ankle injury suffered blocking a shot during the preseason and then reaggravated in November.

"He's a warrior though," coach Jon Cooper said.

Injuries aside, Paquette hasn't been happy with his game, entering Friday's game with just two goals and two assists in 26 games. He's still trying to find his confidence.

"It's more my offensive side," Paquette said. "I'm just playing a little bit too simple right now. I don't want to make a mistake. I wasn't thinking about that last year, and I do this year. It's just confidence." …

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Red Wings' Blashill: Lightning 'really rolling now'

Steven Stamkos and the Lightning beat the Red Wings in a seven-game series in the first round of the playoffs in April.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos and the Lightning beat the Red Wings in a seven-game series in the first round of the playoffs in April.

Coach Jon Cooper said tonight's showdown with the Red Wings will be a "measuring stick" for the Lightning.

Apparently, Detroit feels the same way about Tampa Bay, which beat the Red Wings in a seven-game series in the first round of the playoffs in April. Detorit won the first two meetings this season, but the Lightning has won eight of its last nine to move into a tie for second in the Atlantic Division.

"They're healthy now and early in the year, they weren't healthy," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "Nobody uses that as an excuse, that's why it's probably not talked about enough. But when you lose unique players, usually you see those teams dip a little bit. Once they got back it takes a while to get rolling, but they certainly look like they're rolling now. They've got a lot of really good players, they're well-coached, they're what everybody thought they were at the beginning of the year, that's one of the best teams in the East. I think it has much to do with health as anything."

Blashill, long-timem friends with Cooper, said he's leaned on his buddy for advice this season, his first as an NHL coach. …

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Podcast: Bishop on journey to first All-Star Game

Ben Bishop has been the Lightning's MVP this season, playing arguably the best hockey of his career.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ben Bishop has been the Lightning's MVP this season, playing arguably the best hockey of his career.

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop is headed to his first NHL All-Star game, and it is well deserved.

Bishop, 29, has been the team's MVP this season, playing arguably the best hockey of his career. It has to be gratifying, considering he's now on his third NHL team, finally getting his chance. In this week's Lightning Strikes Podcast, the Times sat down with Bishop, discussing what the All-Star selection means to him, and his journey to get here. He'll join captain Steven Stamkos in Sunday's game in Nashville.

I'll also discuss the latest developments in the Stamkos contract saga, and what the reported eight-year, $68 million offer by the Lightning means. And I'll break down the potential of a Jonathan Drouin trade.

(Click below to listen)

 

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Stamkos watch as Leafs in town: 'Everyone wants Stammer here'

Ryan Callahan said Lightning players aren't talking to Steven Stamkos, pictured, about his contract, or trying to recruit him.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ryan Callahan said Lightning players aren't talking to Steven Stamkos, pictured, about his contract, or trying to recruit him.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos did not speak this morning after the optional morning skate.

But that didn't make Stamkos any less of a topic of discussion with his hometown Maple Leafs in town. There were a horde of media from Toronto, as well as Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, who broke the story Saturday of the Lightning making an offer of eight years, $68 million to Stamkos, who is in the final year of his contract.

Coach Jon Cooper reiterated the Stamkos contract saga, not to mention the Jonathan Drouin trade request, haven't creeped into the dressing room. And veteran wing Ryan Callahan echoed that point. Callahan has been in this situation, the former Rangers captain in the final year of his contract in 2014 before getting traded at the deadline to the Lightning in the Marty St. Louis trade.

"The biggest thing is not letting it get to you," Callahan said. "Coming to the rink and keeping that on the outside and let your agent deal with most of that, that's what you pay him for. It's coming to the rhink and doing your job and worry about the team and what you have to do on the ice."

Did it ever get to Callahan? …

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Stamkos declines to comment on reported offer, wants to stay

Captain Steven Stamkos would neither confirm nor deny a Saturday report by Canada's Sportsnet that the Lightning has offered an eight-year, $68 million contract extension in recent weeks.

"I'm not going to comment on that," Stamkos told the Times Sunday at the Lightning's family carnival at Amalie Arena. "We haven't talked about that stuff in the media all season long and I don't know how they get a hold of stuff like that. All the things that we've talked about, it's staying internally and it'll continue to be that way."

But Stamkos, in the final year of his current deal, reiterated he hopes to stay with Tampa Bay for a long time. He has maintained that communication between his agents at Newport Sports and the Lightning have remained open, and that negotiations are not at a stalemate. The $8.5 million annual average of the reported offer, which is believed to be an initial one, would be a million more than what he's making this season. Neither GM Steve Yzerman nor agents at Newport Sports have commented on the report. …

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