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Yzerman counts on AHL players to boost Lightning

Tyler Johnson is among the AHL Syracuse players who will fight for one or two forward spots with the Lightning.
Tyler Johnson is among the AHL Syracuse players who will fight for one or two forward spots with the Lightning.
Published Aug. 2, 2013

Unless a must-do trade falls into his lap, GM Steve Yzerman said the Lightning will fill its final roster spots with players from AHL Syracuse.

"It's an exciting opportunity," Yzerman said. "I hope that they sense that."

"It's awesome they trust you enough to give you the opportunity," Crunch C Tyler Johnson said. "That's all you can ask for."

It is difficult to say what roster spots are open. Much depends on how many players coach Jon Cooper keeps at each position.

Suffice it to say Johnson, Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat, J.T. Brown and Brett Connolly will fight for one or two forward spots. Brian Lee, Mark Barberio, Matt Taormina and Andrej Sustr will get long looks for at least one opening on defense.

Yzerman could have looked to free agency to fill these depth positions but said that would send the wrong message to Syracuse's players: "Some of them have played two full years in the minors and done very well. I have to give them an opportunity to take a step forward right now."

CAP TALK: Tampa Bay is about $1.1 million under next season's $64.3 million salary cap but can create space by burying contracts in the minors.

As per the collective bargaining agreement, if a player is on a one-way deal but in the minors, his cap hit is determined by this formula: his NHL cap hit minus $925,000 (the league minimum salary of $550,000 plus $375,000).

That means G Riku Helenius, with a $600,000 cap hit next season on a one-way deal, can play for the Crunch without the Lightning being charged. Such a move is expected, so assume Tampa Bay's cap space is $1.7 million.

There also is this: If Lee, with a $1.15 million one-way cap hit, plays again for Syracuse, his cap charge would be just $225,000.

NEW FACE: David Alexander was hired as Syracuse's goaltenders coach, a move Yzerman said had nothing to do with the job Lightning coach Frantz Jean did with the Crunch and all to do with giving Syracuse's goalies "adequate attention and appropriate time."

In addition to duties with Tampa Bay, Jean worked at Syracuse and ECHL Florida in Estero, near Fort Myers.

"Obviously, he can't be in two places at once," Yzerman said. "We just found that it's very difficult with both clubs and, for that matter, with our affiliation with (Florida). It's stretching Frantz really thin. We've been talking for a while we should add a second guy in the American League."

Alexander, 31, worked previously with Canada's under-17 Team Atlantic. This is his first job working with pro players.

NO DEAL: The contract with Swiss F Ritu Suri was voided because the Swiss federation — unexpectedly, Yzerman said — did not sign on to a player transfer agreement between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation. "If next year there's an agreement in place, we'd definitely like to sign him," Yzerman said.

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OLYMPIC FEVER: The Lightning should be well represented at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

C Steven Stamkos and RW Marty St. Louis have been invited to Canada's orientation camp this month. D Sami Salo and C Valtteri Filppula have been invited to Finland's, and D Victor Hedman to Sweden's.

Also getting invites were Panik and G Jaroslav Janus (Slovakia), and D Radko Gudas and LW Ondrej Palat (Czech Republic).

Head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan and equipment manager Ray Thill will be with the U.S. team. And G Kristers Gudlevskis, drafted 124th overall in June, is a good bet to get an invite from Latvia.

ODDS AND ENDS: Yzerman said he still expects to add an assistant with NHL experience to the Lightning staff. … The only thing holding up the signing of Gudelvskis is notification he is released from his KHL contract with Dinamo Riga. … Sounds as if training camp next month will be at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.


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