<
>

Burke agrees to two-year deal with Lightning

Four days after losing Stanley Cup-winning goalie Nikolai
Khabibulin, the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning signed Sean
Burke to a two-year deal worth $3.2 million.

Burke went 6-5-2 in 15 regular-season appearances with
Philadelphia during 2003-04 following a midseason trade from
Phoenix. He saw very little action while backing up Robert Esche
with the Flyers because of a hip injury that required surgery to
fix torn cartilage.
But the Lightning saw fit to give the 38-year-old Burke -- who
has played 16 NHL seasons -- a deal that will pay him $1.6 million
in each of the next two years.
"In all of the due diligence that we did, it kept coming back
to Sean Burke being the right guy," General manager Jay Feaster
said Tuesday night. "Being a guy that we believe in, in terms of
his playing ability, his coachability, his willingness to work
within our system, his desire to compete to be the No. 1 guy.
"He is a leader regardless of what his role is."
Khabibulin signed a four-year, $27-million deal on Friday with
the Chicago Blackhawks.
"We did an awful lot of homework," Feaster said. "We actually
started doing the homework going back to when the CBA was announced
-- recognizing that depending on what Nik decided to do that we
might not have him here."
After exploring the free agent market and what was available by
way of trade in the short and long term, Feaster settled on Burke.
Feaster is confident that Burke will go all out to win the
starting job, but if he comes up short Burke won't be disruptive
within the locker room.
"As we evaluated where we were and what we want to accomplish
in coming back as the defending Stanley Cup champions we felt this
was the best way to go," Feaster said.
The signing capped a busy day for the Lightning, who also locked
up restricted free agent defenseman Dan Boyle with a three-year
deal, inked veteran forward Rob DiMaio for two seasons, and signed
left winger Dmitry Afanasenkov to a one-year contract.
Feaster was looking to get Boyle, as well as restricted free
agent forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, signed to
long-term deals before they could get out on the open market.
"Danny is an important part of the core of this hockey club,"
Feaster said. "When you look at what the market has become for
mobile, puck-moving defensemen who have an offensive upside to
them, I thought it was very important both short term and long
term."
Now that Boyle is in the fold, Feaster can shift his attention
to his star forwards. He spoke with Lecavalier's agent for an hour
on Tuesday and hopes to be getting closer to a deal. If a multiyear
arrangement can't be worked out, Feaster is also exploring one-year
options.
The sides trust that neither will take the other to arbitration.
"I told him when I became general manager that I want him here
for a career," Feaster said. "I want him to be like a Steve
Yzerman that we win a couple of championships here and at the end
of his career his sweater is retired to the rafters and he is a
Tampa Bay Lightning player for life."
Boyle has played 2½ seasons with the Lightning, establishing
himself as one of the top two-way defensemen in the NHL. In 196
games with Tampa Bay, he has 27 goals and 85 assists.
DiMaio, an original Tampa Bay player during the expansion season
of 1992-93, energetically told the Lightning how much he wanted to
play for them again. He talked to forward Tim Taylor, who passed
the message along to Feaster and coach John Tortorella.
Feaster said that the 37-year-old DiMaio called Tortorella
several times a day, trying to convince him to bring him back.
DiMaio settled for a deal that will pay him only $457,500 next
season.
"When you have a veteran player who desperately wants to be
with your hockey club, I think it's important that you be mindful
of that," Feaster said.