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Sale must be completed for Lightning to plan for offseason

BRANDON — Lightning brass made it clear the organization must get itself together off the ice before any sustained effort can put things right on it.

Retaining the No. 1 pick in the draft was fine, and selecting center Steve Stamkos, as is expected, will be dandy.

But general manager Jay Feaster said the team still does not have a player payroll or operating budget for next season because the sale to Hollywood producer Oren Koules, after almost four months, still isn't done.

Until that is complete — and it seems almost assured at this point, given the worldwide credit crunch, owner Palace Sports & Entertainment will finance part of the purchase — much of the team's business is at a standstill.

"The biggest thing we have to get is a sale transaction complete," Feaster said this week at the Ice Sports Forum. "Once that gets done, we'll have recommendations. It is difficult to plan until we know exactly where we are as far as that goes."

It is not time to dawdle. Tampa Bay has a shopping list that ideally includes two more top-six forwards and a steady, veteran defenseman.

Drafting Stamkos will help, but planning the next steps is difficult if it is unknown how much ownership is prepared to spend.

The salary cap is expected to be about $56-million next season, up about $6-million, with a minimum payroll of about $42-million.

"It is very, very difficult," Feaster said. "There is going to be an ultimate game plan, a recommendation, but that's on a lot of different things."

Feaster said he would like to add a college scout, something the team does not have. He would like to fill an empty pro scout position. He wants to extend the contract of Claude Loiselle, general manager of AHL Norfolk.

"So it's more of an organizational plan," he said. "But once you lay it out there, it becomes a function of what is payroll going to be? What is payroll going to be for everything? Can we add staff? We'll have to adjust based on the directives we're getting."

It all is frustrating for coach John Tortorella, who said the team doesn't need an overhaul to become relevant.

"We need to define an organizational philosophy about where we're going," he said. "That's been a very frustrating thing, especially for Jay Feaster. It's awful tough to manage the past three or four months with the flux we have starting with our ownership. You don't solve anything until you get a plan."

When one is in place, right wing Marty St. Louis said, great things can happen. He mentioned the Flyers, who went from 30th in the league in 2006-07 with 56 points to sixth in the East and a playoff spot with 95.

"We just need a couple of players here and there," St. Louis said. "We're not far from where we need to be."

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

Sale must be completed for Lightning to plan for offseason 04/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2008 6:40pm]
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