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Lightning tix to rise up to 15 percent

Lightning fans are going to have to dig a little deeper into their wallets if they want to watch the team in person next season. Lightning ticket prices are going up, some as much as 15 percent.

The Lightning said it's all part of doing business.

"Obviously, we wish there weren't any ticket price increases," Lightning president Ron Campbell said. "But in order to field a competitive team and with our finances, which have been well documented, we have to do this to retain our players and to be able to recruit new players to give our team the best chance for championships."

Campbell said the Lightning projects to lose $8.8-million before the playoffs this season. And with the NHL changing how playoff money is divided, the Lightning won't generate as much revenue in this year's postseason even if it wins the Stanley Cup again. Campbell also pointed out that season-ticket holders, as well as those with half- and partial-season plans, did not see an increase after the team won the 2004 Cup if they renewed early.

This season, the Lightning's average ticket price is 22nd among the league's 30 teams. Campbell said the Lightning still expects to be in the bottom half of the league in ticket prices for next season even though the team expects its payroll to be close the salary cap.

"We still think it's an extraordinarily affordable product," Campbell said.

Those with season tickets, half-season tickets and partial-season plans received renewal invoices in the mail over the past few days.

The biggest increases will be in the lower bowl of the St. Pete Times Forum where season tickets will go up anywhere from 13 to 15 percent. However, not everyone will feel such a bump. Existing season-ticket holders will not be charged the same as new season-ticket buyers. The longer the season-ticket holder, the greater the discount. However, virtually all season-ticket holders, no matter how long they have had tickets, will see an increase.

Only the cheapest season tickets (the upper bowl's end zone and last five rows) will remain unchanged at $699 or $15.89 per game. The Times Forum has about 3,000 of those seats and the Lightning is considering adding another 1,000 seats to that price range.

COMING HOME: The Lightning hopes its four players from the Canadian Olympic team can get back to Tampa Bay today and is doing everything it can to make that happen.

Hockey Canada, assuming its Olympic team would advance to either today's bronze medal game or Sunday's championship, scheduled a team charter to return to Toronto late Sunday night. The charter could not be changed even though Canada was knocked out on Thursday, and that meant Lightning players Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards and Dan Boyle likely would not have arrived in Tampa until Monday.

But the Lightning contacted Lecavalier, Richards and Boyle in Italy on Friday and offered to pay for their flights home. All three agreed even though they are under no obligation to return before Monday. The three also agreed even though it means leaving some family and friends behind. The Lightning hoped St. Louis would join his Lightning teammates, but as of late Friday, he could not be reached on his European cell phone.

"It's not about bringing them back to practice," Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said. "It's about getting them back here in their own beds and in this time zone. That's the big thing. They won't be expected to practice with us until Monday. It gives them time to re-acclimate and get plugged back into this time (zone).

"Needless to say, we're extremely pleased and excited they've agreed to do it. It's a situation where it's totally up to them. The NHL teams can't force them to come back and all three of them just jumped at it."

If all goes according to plan, the three Canadians and possibly St. Louis could be back in Tampa sometime around 8 tonight.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Lightning goalie John Grahame was expected to be home late Friday.

Vinny Prospal and Pavel Kubina will play in the bronze medal game today for the Czech Republic and return home either Sunday or Monday. Sweden's Fredrik Modin, who will play in the gold medal game Sunday, likely won't return until Monday.

The Lightning plays Tuesday at home against Florida.

LIGHTNING TICKET PRICE CHANGES

2005-06 2006-07

(Per game) (Per game) Increase

Plaza Center $2,999 ($68.16) $3,399 ($77.25) 13 percent

Plaza Attack Zone $2,699 ($61.34) $3,099 ($70.43) 15 percent

Plaza End Zone $2,199 ($49.98) $2,499 ($56.80) 14 percent

Jeep Club Side Line $2,999 ($68.16) $3,399 ($77.25) 13 percent

Jeep Club End Zone $1,999 ($45.43) $2,199 ($49.98) 10 percent

Terrace Center $1,099 ($24.98) $1,149 ($26.11) 5 percent

Terrace Corner $799 ($18.16) $849 ($19.30) 6 percent

Terrace End Zone $699 ($15.89) $699 ($15.89) no change

Terrace Last Five Rows$699 ($15.89) $699 ($15.89) no change

Note: Existing season ticket holders may receive different pricing in some areas.

Per game prices based on 41 regular-season games and three preseason games.

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