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Yzerman starts free agency with big moves, positive reviews for Lightning.
Published Jul. 2, 2010

The way Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman looked at it, he was just doing his job.

Signing star wing Marty St. Louis to a four-year, $22.5 million contract extension? It's a reward for one of the faces of the franchise and a way to get some cost certainty for himself as he builds the team going forward.

Signing free agent Dan Ellis to a two-year, $3 million deal? It's getting a battle-tested goaltender at a good price to challenge Mike Smith for the No. 1 spot.

Trading underachieving defenseman Andrej Meszaros to the Flyers for a 2012 second-round draft pick? It's freeing $4 million of salary for next season and $18.25 million over the last four years of his contract.

So, when Yzerman was told of plaudits he received for his work during the first day of free agency, he just chuckled.

"I wasn't trying to make a statement," he said Thursday.

But others said he did by coming out aggressively, and especially by extending St. Louis, 35, who has a year left on his existing deal and is locked up through 2014-15.

"That was huge," said Nick Kypreos, a TV analyst with Rogers Sportsnet in Canada and a former player. "If you look at the way last season finished, with Marty saying it might be time to move on, to announce that he is staying set a tone right off that once again players are going to want to play in Tampa Bay."

"And that," said Scott Morrison, an analyst with CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, "is a significant message to the hockey world."

It is a message of stability, something the team lacked the past two seasons under the former ownership and management groups, and something to sell players around the league as Yzerman builds the franchise.

It resonated with Ellis, 30, who was 15-13-1 for Nashville last season with a 2.69 goals-against average and .909 save percentage but lost his job to Pekka Rinne.

"Definitely," said Ellis, who will make $1.5 million a season.

"When a player of (St. Louis') caliber makes that kind of commitment, it does show a lot in terms of what direction the team is going, and it shows the confidence players have in the organization. That's going to be a very attractive place to play."

Yzerman, hired in May and in his first free agent signing period as a general manager, said his initial plan was to feel out the market. He did not want to overpay, a dangerous hazard during the emotional first day of shopping.

But there was a change of mind with Ellis because Yzerman did not want to lose a targeted player he said plays consistently, has "strong character" and "we thought was in the price range we were looking for."

"So, we were like, 'Let's put an offer in.' We wanted to do something quickly, and Dan sensed an opportunity, and his agent sensed an opportunity where there was an opportunity to play and where money isn't necessarily the most important thing," Yzerman said. "We were able to get a goalie we feel really good about at a contract that works for us."

It wasn't all addition for the Lightning.

Defenseman Kurtis Foster signed with the Oilers. Goalie Antero Niittymaki went to the Sharks, and Yzerman said he still is in the market for a puck-moving defenseman. The coveted Paul Martin signed with the Penguins for five years and $25 million, way more than Yzerman could justify.

"We have a lot of holes to fill, but I have full faith in what Steve is trying to accomplish," said St. Louis, who will make $4 million next season and average $5.625 million a season during his extension.

"We've had so many bad articles written about the Lightning the last two years, it was so draining. Steve brings a calm. It kind of like stops the storm. We have to earn respect with our play, but I feel the bad weather is behind us."

Well, the first day of free agency, anyway.

"The biggest thing is not to get too excited and go beyond your plan," said Yzerman, who during four years as a Red Wings vice president watched the best executives in the business handle free agents.

"But it's been fun. It's been a long day, and it's been interesting. We'll pick it up again in the morning."

"It was a good day for him, no question," the CBC's Morrison said. "It's only the beginning, but it was a very good day."

* * *

Staying - Marty St. Louis

Arguably the top fan favorite on the Lightning, he agreed to a four-year contract extension that will keep him in Tampa Bay through the 2014-15 season. "Tampa was always the No. 1 place I wanted to be," St. Louis said.

Going - Andrej Meszaros

The Lightning traded the defenseman to the Flyers for a second-round draft pick in 2012, clearing $4 million of cap space for next season.

Others: D Kurtis Foster to Oilers, F Alex Tanguay to Flames, G Antero Niittymaki to Sharks