Roster situation could play out in Europe
Coach Barry Melrose has said he would love to have the Lightning's roster situation settled by the time the team leaves for Europe on Thursday after an exhibition in New York against the Rangers. But vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton said the team could take up to 27 players to Europe and make final cuts there.
"It's very inconvenient to bring players over, but these guys have worked their (butts) off, and there are more jobs open than people think," Lawton said. "People think that if guys have one-way (contracts) that is the be-all and end-all. We're looking for the best hockey players here. We don't care where the come from or where they're signed at. Nobody should take that for granted."
For the Lightning, and the three other teams traveling to Europe, rosters must be set by 3 p.m. Oct. 3. (Tampa Bay plays the Rangers Oct. 4 and 5 in Prague). The league roster limit is 23, but those four teams could have 24 player only if it has a third goaltender.
The Lightning is in a tough spot at forward with 17 one-way contracts that pay the same whether the player is in the NHL or the minors. How will Tampa Bay trim that down?
"That's my job. I'll figure that out," Lawton said. "We're working daily on options for lots of different things. I'm not worried about it."
Beyond trades, Lawton can trim the roster by putting players on injured reserve. That removes the player from the roster count. Center Jeff Halpern (knee) will be Jeff there and likely wing Nick Tarnasky (thumb). Lawton even said there is a chance defenseman Paul Ranger and center Vinny Lecavalier, both rehabbing shoulder surgery, could be there as well. Lawton wasn't making any predictions on the latter two, but, as he said, "There are no guarantees" they will be ready.
"I'm not going to (expletive) around with these guys if they're not ready," Lawton said. "I'm not stupid. This is for the season."
Making that decision a bit easier is the fact Tampa Bay plays just nine October games, seven after getting back from Europe on Oct. 6.
"Trust me," Lawton said. "I'll do what's best for the players and the hockey club long-term."
Also, Lawton said cuts will be made Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to get down to the 24-27 mark.