Lightning waive Gratton, Vrbata heads home

Bob McKenzie

12/8/2008 12:54:28 PM

Radim Vrbata's season with the Tampa Bay Lightning is over.

The free-agent winger, who was signed to a three-year, $9 million free-agent contract in the off-season is apparently heading home to the Czech Republic to finish the season there. The Lightning will apparently not be responsible for paying him for the balance of this season but the contract will remain in force for the second and third years should he choose to return to the NHL.

"Radim is a great guy and he came into our office on Sunday morning and just told us his confidence is low and he would like to head home to the Czech Republic to finish the season,” Lightning owner Oren Koules told TSN. “He just wants to take the rest of the year off (from the NHL) and try to get his game back over there. If he wants to come back next season, great. That's his call. This is all very amicable. He's a great guy who's really struggling right now.”

Vrbata scored 27 goals last season but has only three this year.

Vrbata was put on waivers Monday and it's expected he will clear Tuesday. That would free Vrbata up for assignment to a Czech team if he chooses to play there, but in any case, his salary for this season will go off the Lightning books and they will not be responsible for paying him or having his salary count against the salary cap.

The Lightning made another move on Monday, placing forward Chris Gratton on waivers.

Gratton played most of his 14-year career with the Lightning after being drafted third overall by the club in 1993. The Lightning re-signed him to a one-year contract in July.

Gratton, 33, has two assists in 18 games with the Lightning this season and has 214 goals and 567 points in 1,086 career games.