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Tampa Bay Lightning's preseason schedule makes both hockey and financial sense

High hopes: Left wing Stephane Veilleux, front, brings a career high in goals, points and shots from last season with the Wild. Lightning general manager Brian Lawton calls him “a big self-motivator.”

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High hopes: Left wing Stephane Veilleux, front, brings a career high in goals, points and shots from last season with the Wild. Lightning general manager Brian Lawton calls him “a big self-motivator.”

By the time the Lightning finishes a grueling four-games-in-four-nights preseason road trip, it hopes to have a good handle on the makeup of the team.

It also will have collected enough money, general manager Brian Lawton said, to pay for a good portion of overall training camp costs.

"We actually make money off these games," Lawton said Tuesday.

That is because three of the games — Sept. 21 in Regina, Saskatchewan, against the Senators; Sept. 23 in Loveland, Colo., against the Coyotes; and Sept. 24 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, against the Oilers — are Lightning "home" games for which the team will be paid a lump sum by game promoters.

The Sept. 22 game in Everett, Wash., against the Coyotes is reciprocity for Phoenix facing Tampa Bay in Loveland. Visiting teams handle their own expenses.

The Lightning plays at Dallas and Atlanta, meaning only one of seven preseason games is at the St. Pete Times Forum: Sept. 18 against the Thrashers.

Lawton said that was calculated, in part, to save fans some money.

"What we'd like to do is reduce the overall amount that our fans are spending," he said. "We recognize times are tough … so we thought it made sense to lighten the overall amount."

Franchising "home" games makes just as much sense for the financially struggling team.

Lawton said he did not need NHL permission for such scheduling but must bring enough players — a minimum 30, he said — so none plays more than two consecutive nights, per the collective bargaining agreement.

"We look forward to hosting an NHL exhibition game prior to every season," said Kevin Donnelly, general manager of Winnipeg's 15,000-seat MTS Center, which is hosting a game for the fourth straight year. "We put forward a revenue proposition and came to terms. Hopefully we deliver a big crowd. It's a good opportunity for everyone."

Finances aside, Lawton said the chance to quickly see a lot of players in game situations is a benefit as is playing in likely full arenas, quite different from what is expected in most NHL arenas, including the Times Forum.

"Getting ramped up and playing in front of a full house and feeling the energy let's them know it's time to get their game faces on," Lawton said.

Left wing signed: Lawton said he envisions Stephane Veilleux as a third- or fourth-line player. If that is where he ends up and matches the 13 goals and average 15:47 of ice time he had last season for the Wild, the one-year, $750,000 contract he signed Tuesday will be a bargain.

"He just comes to play every night," Lawton said. "He's a big self-motivator."

Veilleux, 27, drafted 93rd overall by Minnesota in 2001, is 6 feet, 190 pounds and had career highs last season in goals, points (23) and shots (146). He was a career-worst minus-17 and had 40 penalty minutes.

"Night in and night out, rain or shine, this is a guy who will show up and give you everything," Lawton said. "We like what he brings. We're excited about him."

Report: Sakic to retire

DENVER — Joe Sakic, the Avalanche's longtime captain who led the team to two Stanley Cup titles, is retiring after a 20-year NHL career, the Associated Press reported.

The 13-time All-Star is expected to announce his decision Thursday. Sakic, who turned 40 on Tuesday, has won championships and league MVP honors and led Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2002.

But injuries during the past two years began to mount. He missed most of the 2008-09 season because of an aching back that required surgery to repair a herniated disk. He also damaged three fingers on his left hand in a snowblower accident.

Sakic will retire among the NHL's career scoring leaders. He is eighth in points (1,641), 11th in assists (1,016) and 14th in goals (625).

Flyers: Chris Pronger agreed to a $34.9 million, seven-year contract extension, less than two weeks after the 2000 NHL MVP joined his new team. The Flyers acquired the star defenseman in a draft-day trade last month. Pronger, 34, had 11 goals and 37 assists last season with the Ducks.

Penguins: Forward Maxime Talbot, who scored both goals in Pittsburgh's 2-1 victory in Game 7 against Detroit in the Stanley Cup final last month, will miss training camp and the beginning of the season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Tampa Bay Lightning's preseason schedule makes both hockey and financial sense 07/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 11:52pm]
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