Hoping Brian Bellows can be the scorer he used to be, Lightning general manager Phil Esposito acquired the veteran left wing from Montreal in exchange for center Marc Bureau.
Esposito made it clear Friday why he traded for the 13-season NHL veteran: "Not often can you get a guy who can score all the goals that Brian can _ I'm putting pressure on you now, Brian."
"That's okay," Bellows, 30, answered via conference call.
Bellows has scored 30 or more goals in nine seasons, including a career-high 55 for the North Stars in 1989-90, 40 his first season in Montreal (when the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup) and 33 two seasons ago.
But offensive production for the three-time All-Star slipped to a career-low eight goals and eight assists in 41 games last season with Montreal.
"It was a very difficult year for a lot of us," said Bellows, known as a power-play specialist who does his best work close to the net.
Bellows' playing time decreased last season and he fell victim to the youth movement in Montreal, which failed to make the playoffs for the first time in the past 24 seasons.
But Bellows' playing time could change in Tampa Bay, where Esposito made the team's need for more offense an off-season priority.
"I'm not looking to come there and just enjoy the sun," said Bellows, taken second overall in the 1982 draft by Minnesota. "I looking forward to playing, playing hard and returning to the form I had a year ago.
"A lot of it comes down to ice time. Obviously, if you don't play on the power play or first or second lines, you're not going to score a lot of goals."
Esposito has gambled before, trying to revive the careers of goal-scorers _ including Denis Savard, Petr Klima, Gerard Gallant and Paul Ysebaert _ and hopes this time it pays off.
The risk is minimal, since Montreal will pay part of Bellows' salary and Bureau was likely to be given a termination contract going into his option year. (The Lightning sent out termination contracts Friday, but would not reveal who would receive them. Veteran forward John Tucker is believed to be among the group).
Lightning coach Terry Crisp plans to work Bellows onto one of his top scoring lines, perhaps alongside center Brian Bradley or Chris Gratton: "He won't have to worry about 10 minutes a game. The nice thing is it opens up a lot of options for us."
With only recently re-signed Rob Zamuner, second-year forward Jason Wiemer and veteran Klima considered natural left wings, the Lightning went into the summer looking for help.
Next up: acquiring a veteran, stay-at-home defenseman, possibly from free-agent availability lists that will be made public next week, and trying to sign goalie prospect Tyler Moss.
By dealing Bureau, a Quebec native raised about an hour from Montreal, the Lightning opens a center spot in its lineup, perhaps to be filled by prospect Aaron Gavey.
"They're looking for a role player there," said Bureau, 28, who was a teammate of Bellows' on Minnesota's 1991 Stanley Cup-finalist club. "That's what I've been doing, so I think they have room for me."
Phil Esposito has been dubbed "Trader Phil" for his penchant to wheel and deal. Here are some top goal-scorers he has acquired while general manager of the New York Rangers (1986-89) and Tampa Bay Lightning (1990-present):
Player How acquired Most goals season
Bob Carpenter trade Wash. 1987 53 Wash. 1984-85
Marcel Dionne trade L.A. 1987 59 L.A. 1978-79
Guy Lafleur free agent 1988 60 Mont. 1977-78
Petr Klima trade Edmon. 1993 40 Edmon. 1990-91
Denis Savard free agent 1993 47 Chi. 1985-86
Gerard Gallant free agent 1993 39 Det. 1989-90
Paul Ysebaert trade Chi. 1995 35 Chi. 1991-92
Brian Bellows trade Mont. 1995 55 Minn. 1989-90
A look at the Lightning's need for improved offense:
Season Goals scored NHL rank
1992-93 245 (84 games) 21 of 24
1993-94 224 (84 games) 25 of 26
1995 120 (48 games) 24 of 26