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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton says team could be in 'buy' mode as trade deadline nears

TAMPA — GM Brian Lawton didn't make any predictions as to what the Lightning will do at the trade deadline, but he said being part of the playoff race means the team could be a buyer.

That, and Lawton said prospective owner Jeff Vinik, who already is writing payroll checks, is open to adding payroll if the right deal comes along.

"I explained what we were doing as a management group, and it didn't rankle Jeff," Lawton said. "We're looking to be aggressive. That's the way we've been preparing for the last month and a half as we see how the team is doing. Our people are out doing what they should be doing to prepare a team that hopefully stays in the hunt for a playoff spot."

Tampa Bay's needs are varied: a puck-moving defenseman, though there is hope for a return by Paul Ranger, away since Oct. 23 for personal reasons; a scoring wing; and a third- or fourth-line grinder. Lightning scouts were at Wednesday games between the Avalanche and Thrashers, and Flyers and Devils. Thursday, the Thrashers had a scout at the St. Pete Times Forum, and Atlanta certainly is in seller's mode.

The Blackhawks were on the list, but a second scout in addition to Times Forum regular Scotty Bowman did not attend. According to TSN, Canada's ESPN, Chicago was looking at D Andrej Meszaros, with the price being D Cam Barker, LW Patrick Sharp or LW Kris Versteeg. But word now is the 'Hawks are focusing on Anaheim's James Wisniewski.

The Avalanche reportedly is looking to move defensemen John-Michael Liles, who has a too-big contract, and Ruslan Salei, finally healthy after a back injury. With an expiring contract, a team could use Salei as a rental.

Whatever develops likely won't happen before the Olympic roster freeze at 3 p.m. today. Teams can announce trades again March 1. The deadline is 3 p.m. March 3.

MALONE STRUGGLING: LW Ryan Malone has zero goals in nine games, one point in eight.

Go back further and it's worse. Malone, arguably the team's first-half MVP, has two goals and five assists in his past 21 games.

"He's struggled. He knows it," coach Rick Tocchet said. "When he's moving his feet, he is a lot more effective. He's not moving his feet like he was at the beginning of the year." Malone, who will play for the U.S. Olympic team, still is contributing. He has 18 shots in five games, and he plays with C Nate Thompson and Jeff Halpern on a checking line against an opponent's best. But as Tocchet said, "Just because we're checking doesn't mean we're playing a one-four (defensive scheme). You can still score goals."

ODDS AND ENDS: G Mike Smith, in his first action since Jan. 31 after Antero Niittymaki was pulled against the Bruins on Thursday, stopped 14 of 15 shots. … D Victor Hedman had a career-high three assists. … C Steven Stamkos had three assists and has eight goals, 11 assists in an 11-game points streak. … New USF football coach Skip Holtz said "Let's play hockey," before the game. … Bruins wing and former Lightning Mark Recchi tied Alex Delvecchio for ninth with 1,549 NHL games. … RW Brandon Bochenski and D David Hale (leg) were scratched.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton says team could be in 'buy' mode as trade deadline nears 02/11/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 12, 2010 7:31am]

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