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Lightning acquires defenseman Meszaros from Ottawa

Brian Lawton did not spare the superlatives when discussing the Lightning's acquisition of defenseman Andrej Meszaros.

"Something special," Tampa Bay's vice president of hockey operations said.

Meszaros' upside? "Scary … a younger guy who we think can be a real go-to guy for years.

"It's critical," Lawton added. "It's very difficult to find. There's no other way to say it, we're thrilled."

Tampa Bay paid a price in the Friday night trade with the Senators, giving up veteran defensemen Filip Kuba, who waived a no-trade clause, up-and-coming defenseman Alex Picard, and the Sharks' 2009 first-round draft pick acquired in the Dan Boyle deal.

But as Lawton said of Meszaros, "He's a 22-year-old player who has never missed a game, who has played in a Stanley Cup final, who has been anywhere from a No. 3 to a No. 2 (defenseman) on an elite team. It's really scary to think where he's going to get to as a player."

Technically, Tampa Bay got Meszaros' negotiating rights. But a deal, possibly in the area of six years, $24-million, might be worked out as soon as today.

"They really wanted him," Meszaros' agent, Ritch Winter, said. "You always like to be potentially employed by people who really want you. They gave up a pick and two players. You've got to really feel good about that if you're a player."

Meszaros, 6 feet 2, 218 pounds, has 26 goals, 11 on the power play, and 110 points in 246 career games over three seasons, and his 213 penalty minutes proves he can get his nose dirty.

Only because of a contract dispute was the restricted free agent on the market. The Senators also feared their 2004 first-round pick (23rd overall) might sign an expensive offer sheet that would force them to match the salary or allow the Slovakia native to leave with only draft choices as compensation.

With star Wade Redden already gone as a free agent, losing Meszaros that way would create a huge hole.

So Ottawa dealt and, Lawton said, insisted on Picard, 23, who impressed in 20 games last season after being acquired from the Flyers in the Vinny Prospal deal.

"Alex had 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 player for the Ottawa Senators. They were insistent upon him. We didn't want to trade him. But like I said, you have to give up good pieces to get a player like Andrej."

Kuba, a disappointment last season, is in the final year of a contract that will pay $3-million. Combined with Picard's $750,000 salary, the Lightning shed almost as much payroll as it apparently will cost to sign Meszaros; good arithmetic for a team about $1-million under the $56.7-million salalry cap.

The deal also sets the stage for fiercer competition during training camp.

Meszaros, Paul Ranger, Shane O'Brien and Matt Carle are the top four on the blue line, meaning Mike Lundin, Andrew Hutchinson, Janne Niskala, Matt Smaby and Ty Wishart will battle for the two or three remaining spots.

Whatever the configuration, Meszeros is the most experienced of the group that averages 23.7 years old.

"Andrej is an elite player, though, no doubt about it," Lawton said. "He's at a higher level than Filip is now. That's no disrespect to Filip, who is a tremendous player in the league."

Even so, Lawton added, "There's no drop-off in the short term. 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."

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

>>fast facts

Andrej Meszaros

Born: Oct. 13, 1985

Ht./Wt.: 6-2, 220

Position: Defenseman

Shoots: Left

Notable: Has 39, 35 and 36 points in his three years, and 50 total power-play points.

Lightning acquires defenseman Meszaros from Ottawa 08/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 7:30am]
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