Lightning gets rights to Malone, Roberts from Penguins

Oren Koules vowed the Lightning would be "shockingly aggressive" during free agency, and the owner is acting like he means it.

Continuing a quest to fill the gaps on its forward lines, Tampa Bay on Saturday traded for the negotiating rights to left wings Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts, both of whom can become unrestricted free agents Tuesday.

The Penguins got the 2009 fourth-round draft choice the Lightning acquired from the Stars in the Brad Richards deal.

If Tampa Bay signs Malone, 28, one of the prime pieces of merchandise in the potential free-agent market, the compensation becomes a third-round pick.

"He's prototypical of what all of us have been looking for in a hockey player," Koules said. "He's absolutely what we want."

Undoubtedly to play on a line with center and No. 1 draft pick Steve Stamkos.

Roberts, 42, who has 434 goals in a 20-year career that includes a Stanley Cup title with the 1988-89 Flames, would be a third-line grinder and an instant leader.

"We've been talking so much about changing the culture of our dressing room to make sure it's 20 guys going in the same direction," Koules said. "There's nobody who epitomizes team and ruggedness and willingness to win a hockey game than Gary Roberts. We want that voice and leadership in our room."

The Lightning has two days to sign the players before they hit the open market and can sign with any team. Considering how late it is in the game, Tampa Bay must believe something will get done. If so, especially with Malone, it will drastically change how it operates during free agency.

"We're still going to be active," Koules said. "But we can be a little choosier."

That is because Malone, a 6-foot-4, 224-pound buzz saw, will fill one of two up-for-grabs spots on Stamkos' line.

The Pittsburgh native had career highs of 27 goals, 24 assists and 51 points last season. He had 11 power-play goals and six winners. He plays in front of the net and with an edge that produced 103 penalty minutes. And he missed only a few minutes of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final after a shot broke his nose.

A problem could be his salary. With free-agent depth so shallow at forward, there is potential to overpay. Speculation is Malone might want $5-million.

Asked if he was worried about overpaying, Koules said, "No."

Roberts was believed headed to the Maple Leafs or Senators after saying he wanted to play closer to his North York, Ontario, home. But he waived a no-trade clause, so there must be interest.

He had three goals in 38 games last season, shortened by a broken left leg and ankle sprain.

Agent Rich Curran said his client so enjoyed playing with Pittsburgh's youngsters, such as Jordan Staal, he relishes the chance to play with Stamkos.

"Rob gets excited about stuff like that," Curran said. "He sees this as a great opportunity to work with and play alongside and help what is likely one of the next great young players."

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

Lightning gets rights to Malone, Roberts from Penguins 06/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 4:50pm]

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