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Tampa Bay Lightning has no interest in returning right wing Radim Vrbata

TAMPA — The agent for Lightning right wing Radim Vrbata said his client "100 percent" wants to return to the NHL next season after playing much of 2008-09 in the Czech Republic.

"He's an NHL player," Rich Evans said. "He wants to play in the best league in the world."

But general manager Brian Lawton said Vrbata is not in Tampa Bay's plans — "There won't be a roster spot for him." — and gave Evans permission to work out a trade.

If Vrbata, owed $6 million over the next two seasons, can't be moved, he will play for AHL Norfolk, Lawton said. Vrbata, 28, would be paid his $3 million salary, but it would not count against the salary cap.

Last season was a strange and disappointing one for Vrbata, who in July 2008 signed a three-year, $9 million deal. He had just three goals and six points in 18 games before returning to his native Czech Republic.

Evans said the move was because of the difficult pregnancy of Vrbata's wife, Petra, who in March had a son, Krystof. Vrbata, who had 12 goals and 17 points for two teams, was not paid by the Lightning during his absence.

"I don't know his thinking in that regard," Evans said when asked if Vrbata has to re-establish himself. "I only know his intention is to play in the NHL."

GOALIE CHASE: It appears the team wants Antero Niittymaki to back up goalie Mike Smith.

It is not a sure thing. Niittymaki, 29, formerly of the Flyers, is said to be talking to a team from Russia's Kontinental Hockey League and had hip surgery in September 2008.

Niittymaki was 15-8-6 in 32 games last season with a 2.76 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

HEDMAN SIGNS: Defenseman Victor Hedman signed his rookie contract, a standard three-year deal that pays $900,000 a season. With performance bonuses, Hedman could make up to $3.75 million, though that is unlikely.

MEDAL WATCH: Center Dana Tyrell and goalie Dustin Tokarski, both at the Young Guns Camp at the St. Pete Times Forum, won gold with Canada at the junior world championship during the winter.

Tyrell, who sustained a serious knee injury in a warmup game before the tournament, said his mom is having his medal and uniform framed. Tokarski said his medal is "in a drawer" at home.

YOUNG GUNS SCHEDULE: Changes have Group B on the ice at 9 a.m. today and Group A at 10:15 a.m. Both skate at 7:15 p.m.

Tampa Bay Lightning has no interest in returning right wing Radim Vrbata 07/09/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 10, 2009 6:34am]
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