Striking while the team’s hot: Lightning reportedly sell twice as many season tickets for 2011-12

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If you ask me, there’s really only one reasonable excuse why a Tampa Bay sports fan wouldn’t support the Lightning at this point: they don’t like hockey.

Beyond that obvious possibility, how could you not be enticed by this team? They have three star players in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier (even if Lecavalier could probably justify his star status with a little more production). The team has a wily veteran in net in Dwayne Roloson and a possible defenseman of the future in Victor Hedman. Oh yeah, they also have Steve Yzerman as their GM, Guy Boucher’s James Bond scar on the bench and an owner who’s focused on giving hockey people what they need to win as opposed to the duo who seemed too distracted by cross-promoting hackneyed horror movies with goalie masks.

With Stamkos signed for the medium-term future and all of their free agent questions answered, the Lightning look like they have the right ingredients for another promising season. The Yzerman era is off to a bright start off the ice, too, judging by St. Pete Times Forum’s $35 million facelift and an intangible sense of excitement around almost every area of the club.

Of course, all of these great developments would be meaningless if the team fails at the box office. That doesn’t seem to be the case, as Damian Cristodero passes along these promising sales figures from Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke.

The Lightning, coming off its first playoff appearance in four years, has sold more than 10,000 full season tickets for next season, CEO Tod Leiweke said, doubling last season’s total of 5,000.

“We’re right at 10,000, maybe 10,005,” Leiweke said. “We feel good about that.”

Leiweke said renewals are running at about 90 percent, which means about 5,500 new subscribers have signed up. When yet-to-be-sold partial season tickets are factored in, Leiweke said he hopes the season-ticket base will be about 12,000.

“Our job is to sell out every game,” he said. “We still have work to do to get to that. But to say we’d be at 10,000 right now, that’s a heck of a target.”

Cristodero reports that sellouts won’t be quite as difficult to reach thanks to some of the changes made by that $35 million facelift. The addition of a pipe organ, a party deck and the elimination of a few sections and suites will remove 718 seats from a building which boasted a hockey capacity of 19,758 before. That being said, Cristodero points out that the forum could hold more than 20,000 people if you factor in standing room, lounges and restaurant audiences as well, which isn’t that hard to imagine if the Lightning put together another big run in the playoffs.

In other words, things are looking great for the Lightning on the business end. Considering the near-instant success the team has enjoyed since Yzerman took over, it only seems fair. We’ll see if this organization can keep the positive momentum going in 2011-12, though.

Caps re-sign Copley, who could be Holtby’s future backup

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Pheonix Copley, who returned to Washington this season as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade with St. Louis, has signed a two-year extension worth $1.3 million, the Caps announced on Wednesday.

The key wrinkle in the deal is that year one is of the two-way variety, while year two is of the one-way.

It’s worth mentioning because Philipp Grubauer — Washington’s current backup to starter Braden Holtby — is currently a restricted free agent, and believed to be have No. 1 potential.

The 25-year-old has capably served under Holtby for the last two years. He’s coming off an excellent campaign — 13-6-2, .926 save percentage, 2.05 GAA — and sounds like he’s ready to make the next step in his career.

“I would like to stay here; Washington is awesome and the whole organization’s been awesome the last couple of years,” Grubauer said, per the Post. “But I’m ready if the opportunity comes to make the next step and try to be a starting goalie somewhere.”

Grubauer was made available to Vegas at the expansion draft, but Golden Knights GM George McPhee opted to take blueliner Nate Schmidt instead. There are still rumblings that Washington might dangle Grubauer in trade talks.

Copley has a very small NHL resume — just two games, both with St. Louis — but fared very well with AHL Hershey last year. In 16 regular-season games he went 11-5-0 with a .931 save percentage and 2.15 GAA and, in the playoffs, went 5-4 with a .933 save percentage and 2.13 GAA.

Report: Ryan Miller may land in Anaheim

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The Anaheim Ducks might be getting a former Vezina Trophy winner as their backup.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, “there is a lot of expectation of Ryan Miller to Anaheim for approximately $1 million, although I’m not sure if bonuses will be added to that.”

Miller, an unrestricted free agent, has spent the last three years in Vancouver. The Canucks would like to keep him; however, his wife, Noureen DeWulf, is an actress, so Southern California has always been a potential landing spot.

Also, let’s face it, Miller would have a much better shot at winning the Stanley Cup with the Ducks, and that’s something the 36-year-old has never done.

As for the Ducks’ motivations, signing Miller would give them a viable starting option should John Gibson struggle or get hurt again. Recall that Anaheim’s last backup, Jonathan Bernier, had a tough time after he was forced into action in the Western Conference Final.

Related: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?

Jets have contacted Mason about goalie gig

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Though most signs point to Brian Elliott in goal for Winnipeg next season — see here and here — there are other options out there.

Per the Winnipeg Sun, the Jets have reached out to ex-Flyers netminder Steve Mason during the free agent interview window.

Mason, 29, just wrapped the last of a three-year, $12.3 million deal with a $4.1M average annual cap hit. He’s spent the last four-plus seasons with the Flyers but, over the last two, had been part of a platoon with Michal Neuvirth.

Mason played 58 games to Neuvirth’s 28 this year, but didn’t fare especially well, finishing with a .908 save percentage.

We bring this up because whoever signs in Winnipeg will likely have to concede some starts to Connor Hellebuyck, the one-time goalie of the future that struggled mightily through ’16-17. Hellebuyck is still only 24 and the hope is that last year can be spun as a positive learning experience.

“We went through a growing period and the goaltenders were exactly like that,” head coach Paul Maurice said of Hellebuyck’s campaign, per the Free Press. “Put them back in the net after a tough night, yanked [Hellebuyck] early a bunch of times.”

The Sun reports that Winnipeg was “one of several teams that inquired about Mason,” which isn’t surprising. He’d make for a high-caliber backup and a likely upgrade in a number of markets.

 

Bruins re-sign Acciari — two years, $1.45 million

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Looks like Noel Acciari will be around Boston for the foreseeable future.

Acciari, who has spent most of his career shuttling between AHL Providence and the NHL, has signed a two-year, one-way deal worth $725,000, the B’s announced on Wednesday.

Acciari’s contract comes after he appeared in 29 games for the Bruins last year, scoring five points. He also appeared in four of the club’s opening-round playoff games against Ottawa, scoring once.

The former Providence standout, who went undrafted, caught on with Boston in ’15-16 and quickly worked his way into the mix at the NHL level.

There’s a pretty decent chance he’ll eclipse the 29 games played last year, especially if the club doesn’t return veteran forwards Dominic Moore and Drew Stafford, both of whom become unrestricted free agents on Saturday.