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Lightning adds two for defense

Looking to add size and experience to its defense, the Tampa Bay Lightning made two moves Monday, signing free agent Jay Wells and acquiring Craig Wolanin in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche for future considerations.

Wells, 37, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound defenseman who has played in the NHL for 17 seasons and is a veteran of more than 1,000 games, played for the St. Louis Blues last season, seeing action in 76 regular-season games.

"I'm tickled," Wells said from his home in Buffalo, N.Y. "I think it's a great opportunity for me. I look forward to playing.

"The last couple of years, I've played under (coach) Mike Keenan in St. Louis and New York. He likes to play his top four on defense an awful lot. I've been fifth or sixth on both teams and didn't get to play a lot. I'm hoping to get more regular shifts."

Wolanin, 29, scored seven goals and had 20 assists for the Stanley Cup champion Avalanche. He added one goal in seven playoff games. The 6-4, 215-pound defenseman will be rehabilitating, however, from shoulder surgery earlier this month and will be unavailable until November.

Nonetheless, Lightning general manager Phil Esposito sees both players bolstering the position.

"We've been looking to beef up our defense for a year and a half, quite frankly, but things haven't worked out the way we wanted them to," he said. "We've been after Wolanin for almost a year now. What I like about him is his size."

Wells, he said, "can play probably 50 to 60 games a year. That's what we hope he will do. We've tried to upgrade our defense for this year. We were looking to get bigger and stronger."

Those moves, Esposito said, mean the Lightning will no longer pursue one of its own free agents, Michel Petit. "He is no longer in our plans. I just filled his job."

Esposito also announced that the Lightning signed defenseman Cory Cross, 25, to a multiyear contract. Cross, 6-5 and 219 pounds, had two goals and 16 assists in a career-high 75 games during the 1995-96 season.

PANTHERS: Defensemen Richard Svehla and Geoff Smith re-signed, Svehla for three years, Smith for one. Financial terms weren't released.

Svehla, 27, led all Florida defensemen as a rookie last season with eight goals and 49 assists in 81 games. Smith, 27, had three goals and seven assists in 31 games last year, his seventh.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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