Agent: Vrbata a "personal issue"
The agent for Lightning right wing Radim Vrbata said his client requested to go back to his native Czech Republic for a "personal issue," and it had nothing to do with Vrbata's struggles on the ice.
"This is a legitimate personal issue," agent Rich Evans said.
Lightning general manager Brian Lawton said he had no intention of putting Vrbata on waivers until the right wing on Sunday asked him to return him to the Czech Republic.
"This is a personal matter," Lawton said. "I didn't ask him to come in. Nothing like that happened."
It was unclear the nature of the personal issue but Vrbata's wife, Petra, is about five months pregnant with their first child. If Vrbata clears waivers at noon today he likely will be assigned to his hometown team of Mlada Boleslav, Evans said.
Here are some finer points surrounding the day's events, according to Lawton and Evans:
-- Vrbata's contract does not have a European assignment clause, as did defenseman Janne Niskala, but since Vrbata requested the transfer and Tampa Bay agreed, the team is relieved of the $3-million salary obligation and salary cap hit.
-- Vrbata, 27, will be assigned back to the Lightning during the summer for the remaining two years of his three-year, $9-million contract signed in July. Evans said Vrbata is eager to "fulfill his obligation." But given Vrbata's lack of production and that coach Rick Tocchet has been critical of Vrbata's puck-hunting, will he fit in? "We'll revisit it over the summer," Lawton said.
-- Evans said neither he nor his client have anything negative to say about the Tampa Bay organization. "We really appreciate the efforts of Brian Lawton and (owner) Len Barrie," Evans said. "We much appreciate their willingness to recognize this family issue."
-- Lawton said center Chris Gratton was put on waivers to help clear room for the anticipated return of center Jeff Halpern (knee), and to help keep some of the youth that recently has been called up from AHL Norfolk.
-- Gratton, 33, has two assists in 18 games while stuck on a fourth line and has missed the past nine games because of a lower body injury. His $1.25-million salary still will be paid if he is assigned to Norfolk, as he might be if he clears waivers, but the salary will come off the Lightning's cap number.