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FEASTER OFF TO DO RESEARCH

GM meetings may determine direction Lightning takes with Boyle, others.

The conversation has been held, the parameters set.

Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said he, CEO Tom Wilson and prospective owner Oren Koules hashed out what they are willing to spend to re-sign star defenseman Dan Boyle.

Now all Feaster has to do is compare that number to what Boyle might bring in trade.

That process accelerates today as league GMs gather in Naples for three days of meetings.

The trade deadline is Feb. 26.

"That's the real benefit of the meetings," Feaster said. "You start to talk about ideas, and things start to advance faster as a result."

"There's no question they're serious about Dan as a player," Boyle's agent, George Bazos, said. "They realize his value to the team, but they also realize his value to other teams in the league. I do believe their first intent is to get Dan signed."

Boyle, 31, one of the league's top puck-moving defensemen, is not the only Lightning player who could be available.

Forwards Vinny Prospal, Chris Gratton and Jan Hlavac, and goaltender Johan Holmqvist are potential unrestricted free agents Tampa Bay would not want to lose in the offseason without compensation. Defenseman Filip Kuba likely also is in the mix.

But Feaster has a problem.

The Lightning, Saturday's loss to the Capitals notwithstanding, is still on the fringe of the playoff picture. That makes disrupting the roster riskier.

Feaster also has to keep in mind his stated goal of the summer - finding a No. 1 goalie through trade or free agency - and how that could affect payroll and the roster. There also is uncertainty how payroll will be affected if Koules buys the team or if Palace Sports & Entertainment, which Wilson said has lost about $80-million on its Tampa operation since buying in the summer of 1999, still is in charge.

"It's a very difficult equation," Feaster said. "There are a lot of moving parts on our end right now, not the least of which is the ownership situation.

"The good news is the team's play (10-6-1 since Jan. 8) has put us in a position so we have to think about how we're going to approach things as opposed to being so far out of it, it would dictate a different result."

Which brings us back to Boyle, who is at the end of a three-year, $10-million deal and could ask for $7-million a season.

How high will the Lightning go? Feaster declined to say. He will, though, take copious notes this week on what deals might work out if the sides can't agree.

Bazos said Boyle will decide to enforce or waive his no-trade clause on a case-by-case basis.

"We've talked about it with Dan more so to say, 'Don't worry about anything,'" Bazos said. "'You have a no-trade. We are in control of what's going to happen along with the Lightning, so just concentrate on doing what you're doing.'

"He realizes no matter what happens, he's in a good position," he added. "He's not thinking about anything but playing hockey."

Feaster wishes he had it so easy.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

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