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Esposito looks to upgrade in Dallas

When Lightning general manager Phil Esposito flew to Dallas on Sunday night, deciding on a new coach wasn't the only thing on his mind.

"I'm gonna talk to some teams," Esposito said of his plans for a two-day meeting of GMs.

So don't be surprised if Esposito comes home with a new player or two for the foundering team. But don't be shocked if nothing comes out of all the chit-chat, Esposito warned.

"It is very difficult to make a trade nowadays," Esposito said, a refrain he has uttered often lately. "That's why you don't see it: because it's not trading players anymore; it's trading contracts."

In other words, if the Lightning is to rid itself of anyone on its roster, the player it gets in return can't makemore money than the dearly departed.

Among those likely to be available: Colorado center Mike Ricci, out all season because of shoulder surgery.

NO HELP NEEDED: Seminars on the agenda in Dallas include contract negotiations and dealing with the media.

"The negotiations one will be interesting," Esposito said. "But the other one? C'mon. I've been dealing with the media since I was nine years old."

NOWHERE TO GO: The Lightning is dead last in the standings, so it figures that its power play is bound to be there too. And on Sunday, don't you know it, that was indeed the case: With four goals in 66 chances, a measly 6.1 percent conversion rate, Tampa Bay's power play was 26th among 26.

Esposito has his theory on what the Lightning must do to improve: "My big thing on the power play is to get the puck on net."

COACH ESPOSITO?: Even after going on the ice to work with the team for the third time since he fired Terry Crisp, Esposito insists the tag "assistant coach" should not be added to his title.

"My thing is just to help these guys," said Esposito, who was barking instructions and talking one-on-one with players Sunday. "I'm not a coach. But if I can help, I should help."

MISC.: Several players stayed after practice for NHL Freeze Play, an instructional clinic for youth hockey players. More than 400 children took part. Wing Mikael Renberg returned to practice after missing the past few days because of dental work. Defenseman David Shaw skated briefly but still is bothered by back spasms. Center Brian Bradley is ready to return after missing the Lightning's last game with a shoulder sprain.

_ TIM BUCKLEY

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