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Lightning looks for more pieces

Questions.

That was about all the Tampa Bay Lightning had this time last year. But through drafts, trades and free-agent acquisitions, the Lightning turned those questions into a surprising team that went 23-54-7 in its freshman season.

Now Tampa Bay has graduated to its sophomore year. General manager Phil Esposito and his staff are faced with the job of moving forward _ something the San Jose Sharks failed to do in their second season.

"Let's not fool ourselves," Lightning coach Terry Crisp said. "We've got to get better in all areas. We still need everything."

The Lightning already has begun its quest to put a better team on the ice for season No. 2. Last week, Tampa Bay acquired goal-scorer Petr Klima and defenseman Donald Dufresne through trades.

Tampa Bay will pick up a few more pieces through the NHL drafts _ expansion and entry _ this week in Quebec City.

"It's a very important time for us," Esposito said, "but I'm happy it won't be quite as hectic as last year."

Here's a look at each draft and what's at stake for the Lightning.

Expansion draft _ Phase 1 (Thursday at 2:30 p.m.)

The two new franchises, the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, each will select 24 players. Existing clubs, including Tampa Bay and Ottawa, will lose two players apiece.

That doesn't make Esposito very happy. In last year's expansion draft, San Jose was exempt from losing players.

"Us and Ottawa should be exempt," Esposito said. "For us to have to expose anybody is crazy. It's not right, but we have to live with it."

The Lightning can protect one goaltender, five defenseman and nine forwards. The protected lists go to the NHL today. Here are the players the Lightning is likely to protect:

Goaltender: J.C. Bergeron.

Defensemen: Shawn Chambers, Marc Bergevin, Joe Reekie, Bob Beers and Dufresne (one- or two-year pros, including Roman Hamrlik and Chris LiPuma, are exempt).

Forwards: Adam Creighton, Rob DiMaio, Brian Bradley, Marc Bureau, Klima, John Tucker, Danton Cole, Mikael Andersson and Rob Zamuner.

That likely will leave the following players unprotected:

Goaltenders: Wendell Young, Pat Jablonski and David Littman.

Defensemen: Newly acquired Peter Ahola.

Forwards: Steve Kasper, Randy Gilhen, Tim Bergland and Chris Kontos.

Tampa Bay is unlikely to lose a goaltender, but leaving a defenseman unprotected was a concern until Tampa Bay acquired Ahola on Saturday.

"I shouldn't have to worry about trading for somebody just to turn around and leave him unprotected," Esposito said. "We shouldn't have to lose anybody in the first place."

Because of the high quality of goaltenders and defensemen left unprotected by other teams, Tampa Bay likely will lose two forwards in the expansion draft.

Expansion draft _ Phase 2 (Friday at 4 p.m.)

This draft was implemented as a way to appease the Lightning, Senators and Sharks for having to risk losing players to expansion. Those three teams have a crack at picking two players from the rosters of Florida and Anaheim, though Florida and Anaheim are allowed to protect their best players.

The Phase 2 rules are complicated but boil down to this: If Tampa Bay selects a goaltender, it must also give up a goaltender or pay $100,000. It's the other team's option.

Should it want to pick up a defenseman, the Lightning still could have to give up a goaltender it doesn't want to lose. That's because players exempt from Phase 1, such as like Hamrlik and LiPuma, have to be protected in Phase 2.

Entry draft (Saturday at noon)

The Lightning will have 11 picks this year, including No. 3 overall.

Esposito said he has listened to many offers from teams interested in trading for the pick. It likely would take at least two quality, proven young players and the other team's No. 1 pick for Esposito to make a deal. The best offers so far are believed to have come from the New York Rangers and the Quebec Nordiques.

Esposito has until today at 5 p.m. to make a deal. After that deadline, all trades are on hold until after the Phase 2 of the expansion draft.

If Tampa Bay does keep pick No. 3, the team likely will take defenseman Chris Pronger or center Chris Gratton.

Barring trades today, the Ottawa Senators are expected to take center Alexandre Daigle with the first pick. The San Jose Sharks are expected to take forward Rob Niedermayer (brother of New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer) with the second choice.

Esposito's preference is the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Gratton, strong in front of the net and producer of 55 goals and 54 assists in 58 games for the Kingston Frontenacs this season. Crisp also said he would prefer a forward.

Several of Tampa Bay's scouts prefer the 6-foot-6, 190-pound Pronger, a defenseman who can rush with the puck and set up a play.

"I like Pronger's size and ability," said John Chapman, Tampa Bay's head scout. "But you can't go wrong with Gratton or Niedermayer, either. It's a good year to be picking third."

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