Fritz Re-ups With Lightning; Next Stop Tampa?

The Springfield Falcons are reporting the Lightning have re-signed left winger Mitch Fritz to a two-way contract. Tampa GM Jay Feaster hints at the possibility of Fritz playing on a line in Tampa next season, which fits Feaster's wish for a more physical fourth line: "We are very pleased to have Mitch under contract for another season", Feaster stated in a release. "As we have told him in the past, if he is able to continue to improve his skating and demonstrate the ability to contribute consistently on an every shift basis, he will become an NHL regular,” Feaster said. “He is, pound for pound, one of the strongest players in professional hockey and he creates room for his teammates every time he steps on the ice. We need that type of physical presence in Tampa and we look forward to seeing Mitch in camp and determining whether he has continued to elevate his overall game to the NHL level."

Lightning Sign Jones

The Tampa Bay Lightning [url=]have signed[/url] center [url=blair-jones]Blair Jones[/url] to an entry level contract. Jones, 19, finished 6th in the WHL in regular season scoring and 2nd in the league in playoff scoring and was named a Second Team All WHL Eastern Conference All Star for his junior club Moose Jaw of the WHL.

Falcons Sign Atherton

The Springfield Falcons [url=]have signed Lightning prospect defenseman P.J. Atherton to an AHL contract.[/url] [url=pj-atherton]Atherton[/url] played 9 games with Springfield under a professional tryout contract late in the year after graduating from the University of Minnesota. In those 9 games Atherton totaled 1 goal and 4 points. The Lightning hold the 23 year old blueliner and former 2002 6th round pick's rights for one year after his date of graduation. His signing of an AHL only contract allows the Lightning to keep him in their system without having to fit him under the club's 50-man roster limit.

Lightning Re-Sign Afanasenkov

The Lightning [url=]have re-signed winger Dimitry Afanasenkov to a one-year deal worth about $738,000.[/url] The one-year deal is Afanasenkov's qualifying offer. The Lightning will likely start with Afansenkov on a scoring line this season after the departure of Fredrik Modin in the Marc Denis trade.

Lightning Schedule Released

The NHL has released its regular season schedule and the Lightning [url=]will be opening October 5th on the road in Atlanta.[/url] The unbalanced schedule features a very Southeast Division heavy first month to the season which will include three matchups with defending champion Carolina and two matchups each with Atlanta and Florida as well as a game against Washington. The AHL's schedule is yet to be set, but the Springfield Falcons [url=]have already announced their home opener will take place October 20th.[/url]

Lightning Sign Richardson

The Tampa Bay Lightning [url=]have signed veteran defenseman Luke Richardson to a one-year $500,000 deal.[/url] Barring perhaps the trade of veteran netminder Sean Burke, Richardson appears to be the final piece in the Lightning's offseason makeover. The 37 year old blueliner has played 1,312 regular season games in his long NHL career. Last year he appeared in 65 games between Columbus and Toronto notching 1 goal and 10 points and logging 16:40 a game in ice time.

Looking Ahead to Next Summer

If you thought the Lightning were up against the 50-man limit this summer, consider how many decisions the Lightning will have to make next summer due to the convergence between the 2005 draft class, Europeans from the 2003 draft class, all unsigned Russians drafted in 2002 and earlier as well as graduating NCAA players. [b]2005 Draft Class[/b] D [url=vladimir-mihalik]Vladimir Mihalik[/url] C/LW [url=chris-lawrence]Chris Lawrence[/url] RW Marek Bartanus C [url=blair-jones]Blair Jones[/url] G [url=kevin-beech]Kevin Beech[/url] [b]Europeans from the 2003 Draft Class[/b] RW Raimonds Danilics LW Albert Vishnyakov [b]Russians Drafted in 2002 or Previous[/b] LW Anton But LW/C [url=alexander-polushin]Alexander Polushin[/url] LW Dimitri Bezrukov C Vitali Smolianinov RW Ilya Solarev C/LW Dimitri Kazionov G [url=vasily-koshechkin]Vasily Koshechkin[/url] C Alexei Glukhov RW Pavel Sedov [b]Graduating NCAA Players[/b] D Arthur Femenella* G Joe Pearce* RW Dustin Collins* D [url=mike-lundin]Mike Lundin*[/url] [i]* The Lightning will have one year from their graduation date to sign these players.[/i] It is also expected that 2006 draftee [url=denis-kazionov]Denis Kazionov[/url] will be brought to North America along with his brother and because [url=dane-crowley]Dane Crowley[/url] was selected one year past his draft age the Lightning may be in a position to have to bring him into the fold as well. And then there's the matter of defenseman [url=pj-atherton]P.J. Atherton[/url] whose situation remains unclear. The Lightning hold his rights for one year after his graduation which, we think, means they have him until some time in May of 2007. The Lightning may have the Springfield Falcons sign him to an AHL contract and wait to see how he does in a full season of minor pro before making a decision. In the end, the Lightning may have to find spots for as many as a dozen prospects (although the number will more likely be seven or eight) next summer, meaning there will be some drastic house cleaning at the minor league level next summer. Prospects like [url=adam-henrich]Adam Henrich[/url], John Toffey and Brady Greco will have to have outstanding seasons in the minors just to get qualifying offers and avoid the fates of Gerard Dicaire, Dennis Packard and J.F. Soucy. Borderline prospects on the above lists, particularly Europeans like Albert Vishnyakov and Alexei Glukhov, will have to rise to the occassion this season if they are to take contracts away from more lauded (and more local to North America) prospects in the Lightning organization. 2006-2007 may not only yield the largest crop of summer prospect signees since the early expansion days of the franchise but it looks as if it will have some of the fiercest competition for contracts ever witnessed in team history. Let the cream rise to the top.

Chiefs Lose Kelly is reporting that Johnstown Chiefs leading scorer Justin Kelly has signed with EHC Olten of Switzerland. The center scored 31 goals and 71 points in 59 games last season for the Chiefs, 21 points more than second leading scorer Dimitri Tarabrin. [url=]According to the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat[/url], the team tendered offers to eight players: G Josh Disher, D Doug Andress, D Jim Hakewill, D Jake Heller, D Brett Peterson, D Ben Wallace, LW Jean Desrochers and C Brad Thompson. The Chiefs will maintain rights to the eight until August 1st. LW Randy Rowe, LW Joe Tallari, D Ian Manzano and LW Jason Spence remained in Johnstown during the offseason and are expected to return to the team.

Springfield Signs Three Including Boisclair

The Springfield Falcons are announcing the signing of three players this afternoon. Center Dan Cavanaugh returns to the Falcons, his hometown team, after a four goal, 19 point season with the club last season. Also, recently signed Lightning prospect Stan Lascek will be reunited with his Chicoutimi teammate Maxime Boisclair as the Falcons signed Boisclair and also Seattle Thunderbird winger Ryan Gibbons to standard AHL contracts. Boisclair was part of the Traverse City Lightning last September and returned to the QMJHL to earn First Team honors at season's end. Gibbons, a hulking 6-5 two-way winger, had 20 goals in 64 games for Seattle last season. All are Springfield contracts upon Tampa's recommendations.

Lightning Sign Doug Janik

The Springfield Falcons are reporting the Lightning have signed former Buffalo Sabres defenseman Doug Janik to a two-way contract. Janik scored Buffalo's first goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Carolina and logged more than 16 minutes of ice time. The Falcons Press release, quoting Tampa GM Jay Feaster, stated:
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