BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — When the Lightning beat HC Slovan on Tuesday, 3-2 in a shootout, it appeared Eric Assimakopoulos had saved about $315,000.
HC Slovan's owner said before the game that he would pay each of his players a bonus of 10,000 Euros if they won, a significant incentive for players Assimakopoulos said make an average of about 50,000 Euros.
Despite the emotional and well-played loss, Assimakopoulos said, "I'm giving it to them anyway," and pounded his fist over his heart. At the current exchange rate, each of the 22 players will receive $14,323.19.
For Assimakopoulos, 38, a real estate investor and a native New Yorker, this is not out of character. He said he is trying to become the first owner of a Slovak franchise to offer players workman's compensation. He has bought thousands of dollars of equipment for local kids and said his is the first team to give players championship rings.
"It's different over here," Lightning coach Barry Melrose said of Assimakopoulos' bonus offer. "…It's the biggest game they ever played, just like the guys in Berlin."
IS IT KOCI TIME? Neither Lightning management nor the coaching staff will comment about the final cut to reduce the roster to the required 24, including extra G Karri Ramo. But connecting some dots reveals LW David Koci could be the last player standing.
Consider Melrose talked up the enforcer before the preseason. He said he has promised his stars they will be protected and recently said Koci's skating, a concern entering training camp, is better than expected.
Add Monday's trade of willing fighter Nick Tarnasky and it makes sense the Lightning would keep some muscle.
"Koci has been great," Melrose said. "He's one of those players you have to have on your team. He lets your star players sleep at night."
MALONE SITS: Melrose said LW Ryan Malone, scheduled to play, sat out because of a sore shoulder. He was replaced by Radim Vrbata.
NO CHEMISTRY: Vrbata, signed as a free agent and given a three-year, $9-million deal, has bounced from line to line looking for a situation that clicks.
"So far I haven't played my game yet," said Vrbata, who began preseason with Malone and C Steven Stamkos, and added he would prefer to stay on one line.
"For me, personally, it would be better to figure out the person who I'm going to play with, how they play," Vrbata said. "I need a guy who I'm clicking with, who I know where he's going, but I'm on different lines every day, so it's tough to get that chemistry going."
Melrose said all he wants is Vrbata to play harder.
"I want to see him hunt the puck a little harder," Melrose said. "I want to see him win more battles. The puck can't always come to him. He's got to work to get in the holes. He's got to work to win battles. At times I've seen that in him, at times I haven't."
ODDS AND ENDS: RW Michel Ouellet cleared waivers but was not immediately assigned to the minors. Is there a trade working? … The pregame ceremony included what was billed as Europe's first use of ice projection technology.