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Tampa Bay Lightning takes ownership sideshow to NHL draft

MONTREAL — The NHL draft has come to this beautiful city. Who would have thought the circus was in town, too?

That is the Lightning, of course, seemingly intent on confirming how off the rails things have gone.

Take Thursday's sideshow.

On a day that should have been devoted to nitpicking the pros and cons of the top prospects before tonight's first round, Tampa Bay's eccentricities stole the spotlight.

Canada's version of ESPN, TSN, reported that general manager Brian Lawton sent an e-mail to agents and fellow GMs that read, "I am the only person authorized to speak on behalf of the team with regard to player transactions."

And The Hockey News came up with what it said was a memo sent May 5 by co-owner Len Barrie to solicit investments in the team. The kicker: The memo seems to want co-owner Oren Koules in the dark, asking all inquiries be sent only to Barrie or executive vice president Brian Rogers, Barrie's man at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"You further agree," The Hockey News quotes the memo, "that under no circumstances will you or your representatives discuss or otherwise communicate any aspect of the transaction to any member of the Company without the expressed written consent of the Company."

Oh, and by the way, Tampa Bay is poised to take 6-foot-6 defenseman Victor Hedman No. 2 overall.

That is if the Islanders don't take him first, which would force the Lightning to decide whether to take forwards John Tavares or Matt Duchene or trade the pick, though that is much less likely.

"Regardless of who the Islanders take," Lawton said, "we get a top-notch player, and that excites us."

Less exciting for the organization is the continual airing of dirty laundry that gives it and the league a black eye.

Commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday tried to mediate by clearly defining roles. Koules is CEO and governor, and runs most of the day-to-day operations. Barrie, like Koules, gets to sign off on all major transactions, but Lawton, as head of hockey operations, is the point man.

That was the essence of Lawton's message, written apparently at Bettman's behest.

Lawton, who once characterized last season as the "chaos" of "too many voices" with him, Koules and Barrie making decisions, confirmed the e-mail but would not elaborate.

He did say, though, "Our ability to function as an organization is at an all-time high. We've got clarity in what we're doing. I feel good about it. Ownership feels great about it."

Asked why he believes that, Lawton said, "There's been a lot of things discussed, but there's one voice that speaks for the organization. That's myself. We work as a team. Everybody contributes, but it goes through one central path."

Not so much, apparently, when soliciting investors for the financially troubled franchise.

Barrie, in a text message, said he had not seen The Hockey News story and did not comment. Assuming it is authentic, it demonstrates the rift between the owners.

Koules stayed quiet, as did Lawton, on persistent speculation about a Vinny Lecavalier trade. He did say he has gotten an "enormous amount" of calls about the No. 2 pick but "not as many" offers.

Perhaps that is because Lawton has set parameters:

"I've been forthright with people that this isn't a fire sale for the No. 2 pick. … If we have a chance to get a real quality, established player that is still in his lower 20s, then we would look at that. We're not looking to add an excellent or elite player that's 30 years old. That has no interest to me whatsoever."

Still, he said "If you want to make a great offer, feel free."

But contact Lawton. As he explained in his memo, "No other person is authorized to negotiate player transactions."

Fedorov heads back to Russia

WASHINGTON — Nineteen years after defecting from the Soviet Union, center Sergei Fedorov is returning to his homeland. The 1994 MVP and three-time Stanley Cup winner signed a two-year deal with Russia's Metallurg Magnitogorsk. He will fulfill his father's longtime wish that he play with brother Fedor, who had a brief NHL career. In 18 seasons, Fedorov, 39, had 483 goals and 696 assists. In 52 games last season for the Capitals, he had 11 and 22.

Olympics: Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will lead Canada in 2010. His assistants are Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and Jacques Lemaire.

Associated Press

fast facts

47th NHL draft

When/where: Tonight-Saturday; Bell Centre, Montreal

TV: 7 tonight, Versus; 10 a.m. Saturday, NHL Network

Lightning picks: Rounds (overall): 1 (2), 2 (32), 2 (52), 3 (75), 4 (93), 6 (161), 7 (182)

Tampa Bay Lightning takes ownership sideshow to NHL draft 06/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2009 12:10am]
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