After spending nearly three weeks in the NHL spotlight during free agency, only to retreat behind the curtain for the past month, the Lightning returned to center stage Friday.
Tampa Bay acquired the rights to restricted free agent Andrej Meszaros from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for defensemen Filip Kuba and Alex Picard along with San Jose's first-round pick in 2009, previously acquired from the Sharks.
Meszaros, 22, and the Lightning are expected to reach terms on a reported six-year deal that will average around $4 million per season. The deal could be announced today.
After months of stalemate negotiations, Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray announced on Thursday the team had reach an impasse in discussions with Meszaros' agent. The Senators offered deals that would pay the defenseman - who has 26 goals and 110 points in 242 games during his three seasons with the Senators - in the neighborhood of $2.5 million per season, while Meszaros was said to be seeking a deal in the $3.5 million to $4.5 million range.
Lightning vice president of operations Brian Lawton seized the opportunity and put together a deal after laying the groundwork earlier in the summer and keeping an eye on the negotiations while keeping a bug in Murray's ear.
"Andrej is a guy that we targeted at the beginning of the summer, quite frankly, in our macro plan of trying to add a younger guy of his caliber, but quite frankly we didn't think it would be possible," Lawton said. "This has been a very methodical, meticulous review of our roster and the plan and trying to execute it.
"This type of player, I thought we were probably a year away from having a chance to add it. We have our short-term goals and we have our long-term goals and Andrej is just a beautiful fit in both the short term and the long term, and that's what we're so excited about. We think he is already an elite defenseman in the league and yet we think he can be that for eight to 10 years."
In losing Kuba, the Lightning sent their most experienced defenseman to Ottawa. Meszaros assumes that mantle as the most experienced player among the Lightning's defensive group.
Lawton, however, said the team has the utmost confidence in the team's young, but talented, defense that also includes Paul Ranger, Shane O'Brien, Matt Carle, Mike Lundin, Andrew Hutchinson and Janne Niskala, along with prospects Matt Smaby, Ty Wishart and Vladimir Mihalik.
"I have a very strong philosophy that the young people on our team are very, very talented, they just need an opportunity to play and prove it and they will get that with us," he said.
That doesn't mean the roster as it is today will be the same when training camp opens Sept. 16.
"I'm definitely still open to anything that can improve us," Lawton said.