RALEIGH, N.C. — The Vinny Lecavalier trade rumors seemingly never end, and the latest one fittingly included the Rangers, whom the Lightning plays tonight at Madison Square Garden.
The Ottawa Sun reported Sunday that Rangers GM Glen Sather contacted Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton in an effort to spark trade talks for Lecavalier.
That report, according to Lawton, is "completely false." Lawton said Monday that he hasn't even spoken to Sather in weeks.
"He hasn't contacted me to inquire about that," Lawton said. "That absolutely did not happen."
Lawton said before Monday's game that he has seen some positives in his team, but after losing two straight to Florida and falling to 13th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, it's "getting to crunch time," and how players respond in the next stretch of games will not only affect playoff hopes but personnel decisions for next year.
"The reality is, as a management team, these are critical times for decisionmaking, and how we do this week, in a lot of ways, it'll determine whether people continue on," Lawton said. "Hopefully the players recognize that, because that's what's at stake."
Big push?: Speaking of Lecavalier, Lawton said he expects a big finish from the captain, who has just 12 goals (but six points in his past four games, including a goal Monday). "The fact of the matter is, he hasn't scored as much as he would like to from a goal standpoint," Lawton said. "But I still think it's going to happen for him. I still think he gets 30-plus goals; it will take a big push for him to get that."
Minor matters: Though Lawton praised former Norfolk coach Darren Rumble, whom the Lightning fired Saturday, he said the Admirals, who entered Monday with the least points in the AHL, are capable of more. Lawton said he liked their play defensively and on the penalty kill, but he would like more offense.
"We'd really like to make the playoffs, and I felt like in order for that to have any possibility, we needed to make the change at this time," Lawton said.
Rumble, who was replaced by associate coach Jim Johnson, has declined comment.
Lawton said Rumble deserves some credit for how some young players he coached have helped the Lightning and said it's possible he could stay within the organization in another capacity (they will talk in a couple of weeks).
Lawton did acknowledge that Norfolk is thin depthwise. "It's going to take time until we draft better and more consistently," he said. "In some ways, that's possibly a bit unfair for Darren."
Nuts and bolts: D Matt Smaby (concussion) was activated off injured reserve and returned to the lineup Monday after missing three games. D Matt Walker was scratched to make room for Smaby. G Mike Smith (neck strain) skated in Tampa on Monday and is expected to do so again today, with Lawton saying he's feeling "great." D David Hale and Todd Fedoruk were also scratched.