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Czech defender and '04 Lightning Cup winner excited to return for 2-year deal.

Here is all you need to know about how much Pavel Kubina loves the Tampa Bay area.

Four years after leaving the Lightning as a free agent, the defenseman still has a phone number with a 727 area code. And he still has his Pinellas County beach home, spending about two months there every summer before returning to his native Czech Republic.

So it was easy to understand why Kubina called Friday "a great day" after signing a two-year, $7.7 million contract to return to the team that drafted him 179th overall in 1996 and that he helped to the 2004 Stanley Cup.

"I always wanted to come back," Kubina said by phone from his hometown, Ostrava. "I never thought I'd have this opportunity.

"Tampa is my second home."

Kubina, 33, said he never wanted to leave in the first place. But Tampa Bay, after eight seasons, couldn't come close to matching the four-year, $20 million deal he got from Toronto that began in 2006-07.

This time, Kubina said, he declined bigger offers to take a $4.2 million salary next season and $3.5 million in 2011-12: "I can say this is my hometown discount."

"I'm just thrilled to play with Pavel again," said captain Vinny Lecavalier, one of three holdovers, including Kubina and Marty St. Louis, from the Cup team. "He's a good leader, a great player. He'll help us a lot."

General manager Steve Yzerman, who approached Kubina on Thursday, said he envisions the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder - who had six goals, 38 points and was an even plus/minus while averaging a team-best 22:37 of ice time last season for the Thrashers - playing in all situations, including the point on the power play.

"He can replace Kurtis Foster's shot that we lost," Yzerman said, referring to the free agent defenseman who signed with the Oilers on Thursday. "And, again, he's in that top four on defense. He can play a lot of minutes. He'll fill a lot of needs for us."

Yzerman said he still is on the lookout for a scoring wing and perhaps another defenseman, though not necessarily a power-play quarterback, as those can be expensive. Besides, he said, a quarterback doesn't have to play the blue line:

"Maybe a forward. Maybe Marty, Vinny or Steven Stamkos runs it off the side boards. That will be (coach Guy Boucher's) determination.

"But if there's a defenseman who can really play on the power play - not big-name guys but guys who can serve a purpose - we'll definitely look at it."

For now, Yzerman likes the look of Kubina in a Lightning uniform.

"I was aware he still had a home in the area," Yzerman said. "That was a consideration. Maybe he would come back."

"This is my home," Kubina said. "I always dreamed of coming back."

DEPTH SIGNINGS: Forward Niklas Persson and left wing Mitch Fritz signed one-year, two-way contracts, the team said.

Persson, 31, played in Russia last season for Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik and had 13 goals and 38 points in 55 games. Fritz had two goals, six points and a team-high 157 penalty minutes in 73 games last season for AHL Norfolk.