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For Tampa Bay Lightning, Dwayne Roloson better than trying for Evgeni Nabokov

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January

There was much knee-jerk speculation when goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was released from his contract in Russia' Kontinental Hockey League that the Lightning would immediately make a play for him. And one of the first calls, if not the first, Nabokov's agent Don Meehan made was to Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

But Yzerman said the call was just informational and there is no indication it went much farther than that. Given the caveats that would go along with signing Nabokov (he would have to be put through waivers after he signed, opening him up to be snatched by every other team), getting Dwayne Roloson late Saturday night from the Islanders for minor-league defenseman Ty Wishart seems a much safer and prudent strategy.

You would have to guess Nabokov is looking for more than a one-year deal and for substantially more than the $1.5 million it will cost the Lightning to have Roloson for half a season. Roloson, 41, is in the final year of his contract, which gives Tampa Bay more flexibility as it decides what it wants to do next season. And Roloson has played regularly (something Nabokov has not) and played well (something Nabokov did not do in Russia).

Is this going to be somewhat uncomfortable? Sure. Yzerman seems committed in the short term to keeping Roloson, Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, who still is recovering from a minor knee sprain. (As expected, Cedrick Desjardins on Sunday was sent back to AHL Norfolk.) On the other hand, with Yzerman giving coach Guy Boucher a mandate of playing whoever is most on his game, there should be quite a bit of competition for playing time. And competition makes everyone better.

But Yzerman will have to make a decision at some point about his goaltenders. Surely, he wants to work a trade, and with Smith in the final year of his deal, it isn't far fetched to believe getting something for him before he perhaps leaves for nothing might be a strategy.

Still, Smith played very well in the two games before he was hurt, and it sounds as if he and Ellis are going to get even more time to prove themselves.

Whatever happens, Tampa Bay took a step to strengthen its weakest position heading into what seems to be shaping up as a playoff run. We just have to wait and see how it plays out.

[Last modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 12:15am]

    

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