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A Gratton-Artyukhin-Tarnasky line would give Lightning muscle

Center Chris Gratton got good news recently when doctors told him he could resume skating on his surgically repaired left hip.

News about Evgeny Artyukhin was not as cheery. Agent Mark Gandler said talks continue, but the process of getting the big Russian signed is slow.

The parallel stories are worth noting because of their potentially common end point, a plan floating around the Lightning offices that would put Gratton on a line with Artyukhin and Nick Tarnasky.

It would be a crash line that leads with the body, disrupts the opposition's flow and makes opponents wary about venturing into corners.

Tampa Bay lacked such a force last season, part of the team's overall absence of physical play.

"If that's something they're thinking about and looking to have, that definitely excites me," Gratton said. "A line like that would be exciting."

Consider the dimensions.

Gratton is 6 feet 4, 228 pounds and had 77 penalty minutes in 60 games last season. Tarnasky is 6-2, 224 and had 78 penalty minutes in 80 games. Artyukhin is listed at 6-4, 254, though Gandler said he has grown, and had 282 penalty minutes in 67 games the past two seasons in Russia.

Gratton and Artyukhin even fought in February 2006 when Gratton was with the Panthers and Artyukhin was in his first season with the Lightning.

"I've said it before, Arty was becoming a hard player to play against," Gratton said. "He's a big physical guy."

But before such a line takes shape, Gratton and Artyukhin must be signed, something for which it is believed prospective owner Oren Koules is pushing.

Gratton, 32, can be a free agent on July 1. Artyukhin, 25, whom the Lightning drafted 94th overall in 2001, also is a free agent.

It is believed Artyukhin is seeking at least $1-million a season in a two-year deal, a demand the Lightning refused to meet the past two seasons.

"We're still talking," Gandler said. "I'd like to see a resolution sooner rather than later.

"I'm getting a lot of pressure from the Russian side. Everybody is trying to put together a lineup and this is the time they do it."

Gratton, who had 10 goals and 21 points in an injury-stifled season and did not play after Feb. 27 because of a torn labrum, wants to return.

As for his hip, he said, "It feels unbelievable. It's night and day from where it was. There's so much relief just getting up in the morning and walking."

Imagine if he, Artyukhin and Tarnasky can start hitting.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

A Gratton-Artyukhin-Tarnasky line would give Lightning muscle 05/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2008 1:18pm]
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