Lightning 'one of preferred clubs' for free agent Zaripov
With veteran Russian wing Danis Zaripov granted free agency this week, he's given a lot of NHL teams something to think about in terms of late summer shopping.
And, apparently, Zaripov, 36, considers the Lightning one of his preferred landing spots, agent Dan Milstein told the Tampa Bay Times.
The question is, how mutual is the interest?
Milstein said they're in the process of talking to the top clubs now, including Tampa Bay, and weighing their options. There's no timeline for a decision, though training camp opens two weeks from today.
Zaripov became available this week when the NHL approved his eligibility following a doping ban in the Kontinental Hockey League and international play. The NHL ruled the suspension wouldn't have happened under its rules (pseudoephedrine is not on the NHL/NHLPA prohibited substances list), and pointed out Zaripov was also not allowed to testify at his hearing. Zaripov, wanting to clear his name, agreed to additional testing if he signs a contract. He had never tested positive before.
Zaripov, a 6-foot left wing, is looking for a one-year deal, with his priority playing for a contender, Milstein said. And despite surprisingly missing the playoffs last season, the Lightning should fit that description. Zaripov won the KHL's Gagarin Cup four times, and the world championships three times. He played for Russia at the 2010 Olympics, and racked up 45 points (16 goals) in 56 games last season for Magnitogorsk (KHL). A six-time All-Star, Zaripov has also produced in the postseason, 73 goals and 151 points in 189 playoff games.
The Lightning has a couple contracts available, as well as $3.25 million in cap space for next season. While Tampa Bay seems pretty set up front, the possibility of adding another skilled winger, a proven playoff performer, could be intriguing, especially after dealing Jonathan Drouin to Montreal.
Zaripov shares the same agent with Lightning forwards Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov, and knows the other Russians on Tampa Bay's team. That familiarity could help the transition.
Now keep in mind the Lightning, like other teams, is in the exploring stage. Several clubs, including the Rangers, are reportedly interested. But with training camp opening in a couple weeks, the Zaripov sweepstakes will be something Lightning fans should at least keep an eye on.