Lightning getting a head start on free agent sweepstakes Staff

6/28/2008 6:32:47 PM

The Tampa Bay Lightning's new ownership group vowed to be "staggeringly aggressive' in the NHL's free agent sweepstakes and they are trying to get a head start on that.

The Lightning have traded a fourth-round draft pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for the exclusive negotiating rights to forwards Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts, who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

''We said earlier this week we would be aggressive in our pursuit of free agents in order to win and compete,'' Lightning owner Oren Koules said.  ''This trade today doesn't guarantee anything, but we believe it gives us a leg up in our attempt to sign these two impact players.''

If the Lightning were to sign Malone, the more coveted free agent of the two, Pittsburgh will receive Tampa Bay's third-round pick in 2009 or they will receive Dallas' fourth-round pick in 2009, previously acquired by the Lightning, if they are not able to sign Malone.

Malone has indicated he intends to go to July 1 to see what the market would bear for his services. Whether this development changes that remains to be seen. It is more likely the Lightning may be able to sign the veteran Roberts, who said during the playoffs that he intended to play again but knew it would not be for the Penguins.

Adding some intrigue to the story, sources tell TSN that last week the Lightning hired former Penguins' player Greg Malone as their head pro scout.  Greg Malone is of course the father of Ryan.