Janne Niskala clears waivers, is off to Europe
Defenseman Janne Niskala apparently was unhappy with his loss of playing time. Add the fact that his wife was pregnant, and Niskala asked the Lightning to allow him to go back to Europe, GM Brian Lawton said.
Part of Niskala's contract allowed the Lightning to return him to Europe, where he had played professionally in Finland, Switzerland and Sweden. Niskala cleared waivers at noon today. Lawton said it was unclear to what team he would be assigned, though, for the sake of paperwork, he could be assigned to the Finnish national team first.
"I like Janne. He did a nice job," Lawton said. "But we talked about it in the summer that if he was not playing, he could go back. We wish him well."
For now, the Lightning's financial obligation to Niskala is over, Lawton said. The Lightning could recall him at any time, though he would have to clear recall waivers.
What does this mean for the roster? For one, it means Tampa Bay is content, for now, to go with six defensemen. It was the emergence of Mike Lundin and the addition of Marek Malik that really bit into Niskala's time. And as Lawton said, it is so easy to call players up from the minors, especially when traveling on the East coast, a seventh defenseman is not imperative.
The move also frees a roster spot for right wing Radim Vrbata (groin), who will come off injured reserve when Niskala is assigned a team in Europe. And though Lawton said Vrbata will not play tonight against the Devils, he could be available Thursday against the Rangers.
"I want to see him and I want to see him play well," coach Barry Melrose said of Vrbata, who has zero goals in five games. "I want to see him be hungry for the puck and get shots and score goals and be good away from the puck."
Other stuff: Mike Smith will start in goal. ... Center Jeff Halpern (knee) skated with the team. He said his basic timetable for return remains the same (mid to late December) but said it is possible, though optimistic, he could be practicing with full contact in three weeks.