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Meszaros signs; 6 years, $24-million



As expected, the Lightning on Saturday announced it signed newly acquired defenseman Andrej Meszaros to a six-year, $24-million contract. The deal averages $4-million, which will be the annual salary cap hit. But Meszaros did the Lightning a favor in terms of actual cash out by going low to high. That also is a nod to his age, 22, and that his contributions likely will  increase as his career continues.

Here is the breakdown: $2.5-million next season; $3.25-million in 2009-10; $4-million in 2010-11 and 2011-12; $4.75-million in 20012-13; $5.5-million in 2013-14.

Meszaros, one of the NHL's best young blue-liners, was acquired Friday night from the Senators for defensemen Filip Kuba and Alex Picard and a 2009 first-round draft pick previously acquired from the Sharks in the Dan Boyle deal.

Beyond the fact that Tampa Bay got another puck-moving offensive-minded defenseman, two things stand out about the deal. The first is the Lightning is now banking on a very, very young corps of blue-liners. With the trade of Kuba, Meszaros, with 246 NHL games, is Tampa Bay's most experienced player of a group that averages 23.7 years old.

Hockey ops chief Brian Lawton acknowledged the youth, but had an answer:

"Yeah, Andrej is an elite player though, no doubt about it. He's at a higher level than Filip is now, and that's no disrespect to Filip, who is a tremendous player in this league. ... There's no drop-off in the short term, absolutely not. We're excited about the future, no doubt about that, but do I think this is a downgrade to be better three years down the road? No. I think this is something that's going to make our team better immediately."

The other question is the blue line's configuration. As it stands, you have a top four of Meszaros, Paul Ranger, Shane O'Brien and Matt Carle. That means Mike Lundin, Andrew Hutchinson, Matt Smaby, Janne Niskala and Ty Wishart are going to battle in training camp for the final two or three spots. Look for Hutchinson to lead that pack with Lundin and Niskala next. Smaby and Wishart, both of whom will get a long look, are long shots.

Another consideration is the loss of Picard, whom Lawton said the Senators insisted be part of the deal. Picard, 23, was little known when acquired last season from the Flyers in the Vinny Prospal deal. But he impressed greatly in his 20 games with Tampa Bay for his willingness to hit and his offensive sensibilities.

"Alex has done nothing but improve his fortunes and his reputation around the league since he came to Tampa," Lawton said. "I have no doubt he's going to be a heck of a hockey player for the Ottawa Senators. They were insistent upon him. We didn't want to trade him, quite frankly. Like I said, you have to give up good pieces to get a good player like Andrej."

As for where Tampa Bay now stands at the cap, the team added a mere $200,000; it got rid of Kuba's cap hit of $3-million and Picard's of $800,000 for a total of $3.8-million and added Meszaros' cap hit of $4-million. The team is now at $55.86-million. The cap is $56.7-million.

As for cash payroll, Tampa Bay was at $52.030-million and lost Kuba's $3-million and Picard's $750,000, which is his actual salary for next season. Meszaros will make $2.5-million, meaning the team saved $1.25-million, so actual salary out is now at $50.78-million. 

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]


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