NEWARK, N.J. — Nothing is confirmed, but rumblings around the Lightning on Friday indicated that D Paul Ranger, away from the team for 11 weeks on personal leave, might be ready to return, perhaps within seven days.
As has been his policy on the matter, GM Brian Lawton declined to comment. Coach Rick Tocchet said he had not heard a timetable, but he was giddy about the chance to add a puck-moving defenseman.
"He's a top-four defenseman and going to play 25 minutes," Tocchet said. "It's like you've added a player in a trade without giving anybody up."
It is unclear whether Ranger is game ready, but as Tocchet said, "The one thing about Paul Ranger is he's always in great shape."
Ranger, 25, left the team Oct. 24 to deal with an undisclosed personal matter. Coming off a second straight summer in which he rehabilitated a surgically repaired shoulder, he had a goal and two points and was minus-2 in eight games.
Always good with the puck — then-Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella called him one of the league's best passers out of the defensive zone — Ranger in 2007-08, his last healthy season, had 10 goals and 31 points in 72 games.
"If he's ready to come back, it's a great thing," said D Kurtis Foster, Ranger's road roommate this season. "Hopefully he has things figured out. When he's at the top of his game, he can really help this team out."
Foster said he last communicated with Ranger around Christmas. "He said he was doing a lot better, and he was skating at the time," Foster said. "I asked if he was coming back, and he really didn't give me a straight answer."
Neither Ranger nor his agent could be reached for comment.
D Matt Smaby said he had not heard from Ranger.
"I think we're all kind of willing to wait for as long as it takes for him to get everything squared away," Smaby said. "But, yeah, he's a great player, and he'd be really valuable for this team."
MALONE HURT: LW Ryan Malone, second on the team with 19 goals, left Friday's game early in the second period when he fell and the back of his right thigh seemed to land on the tip of the skate of Devils G Martin Brodeur. No other information was available.
Meszaros benched: With three goals this season and zero points in nine games, and at a team-worst minus-13, D Andrej Meszaros was benched for what he said was the first time in his five-year career.
"It's tough," he said. "I'm disappointed. But on the other hand, I know I haven't played well. I just have to work hard in practice and … get my confidence back doing the right things in practice."
And in games, such as being in better position and making smarter decisions with the puck.
"He's put himself in this position," Tocchet said. "He hasn't played well. With him, we have to take a couple of steps back to get him to take a step forward. A night off, a good skate, watching and realizing we need more competitiveness and better focus."
Odds and ends: C Steven Stamkos' goal was his first in seven games. … RW Brandon Bochenski scored his first of the season. … With Meszaros out, Matt Walker was back in the lineup. … D David Hale was scratched. … C Jeff Halpern (lower body) said he could be ready for Tuesday's game with the Capitals, though Tocchet said Thursday against the Panthers might be more realistic. … LW Todd Fedoruk (right knee) skated for a second straight day.