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Lecavalier signs 11-year, $85-million deal

Vinny Lecavalier’s extension runs through 2019-20, when he will be 40.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Vinny Lecavalier’s extension runs through 2019-20, when he will be 40.

Lightning owner Oren Koules said late Saturday that superstar center Vinny Lecavalier signed an 11-year contract extension worth $85-million.

"We're unbelievably proud," Koules said. "This is another step for this organization."

The extension adds to the one year left on his current deal and runs through the 2019-20 season, when Lecavalier will be 40.

Koules said it pays $10-million in salary and bonuses for the first six seasons.

RUSSIAN IMPORT: Evgeny Artyukhin has something to prove next season, not only to his teammates and coaches, but to himself: that after two years in Russia, he is a better player.

"I want to show everybody I can play in the NHL, and not only on the fourth line," he said by phone from his homeland. "I want to show I didn't take a step back in Russia; I took a step forward."

Artyukhin, 25, last played for Tampa Bay in 2005-06, with four goals and 90 penalty minutes in 72 games. He signed a two-year, $1.9-million deal to return.

While money seemed the reason Artyukhin stayed away, he claimed his absence was part of a plan to make him better.

But Artyukhin admitted he had trouble readjusting to the Russian game, which he said is much less physical.

"I didn't change my game," he said. "I played like before."

And for the 6-foot-5, 254-pounder, that meant, "All the time, I'm getting penalties."

Still, Artyukhin said he is a better stick-handler and understands the game better.

He said he will miss former coach John Tortorella because, "When I played with him, I was happy," and he knows coach Barry Melrose only from ESPN.

"He's a good talker and has good style," Artyukhin said. "His suits are impressive."

Trading block: Chris Gratton's signing gives the Lightning 17 forwards, including still unsigned Steve Stamkos. (Don't worry, that is a formality.) That means there are plenty of chips with which to trade for a steady, veteran defenseman.

Jussi Jokinen, Michel Ouellet and Jason Ward could be dealt. But Gratton's signing for $1.25-million adds Ryan Craig. At least it sets up a training camp battle for the No. 4 center spot.

As for Gratton, he said he believed he was out of the team's plans and had offers but asked his agent to try again. "I thought this was a better fit for my family," Gratton said. "I didn't want to move again." Taking a $250,000 pay cut didn't hurt, either.

Mother of invention: Brian Lawton, vice president of hockey operations, said trading draft picks for negotiating rights to players before free agency was a necessity. In a conversation with owners Koules and Len Barrie, Lawton recalled saying, " 'Demand is extremely high, and supply is extremely low, and that's not going to make for favorable shopping. So, if you guys are serious about adding assets, we'd better have a plan.'

"We came to a conclusion as a group; we have to get out there and do it early. We can't bid against the New York Rangers. We can't bid against the Vancouver Canucks. Our only avenue to secure people was to do it early."

The strategy worked with Vinny Prospal, Gary Roberts and Ryan Malone, but not Brian Rolston, who signed with the Devils.

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

Lecavalier signs 11-year, $85-million deal 07/12/08 [Last modified: Saturday, July 12, 2008 11:24pm]
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