[Updated 1 July by Cassie McClellan on behalf of John Fontana.]
Kurtis Foster has earned a special place in the hearts of some of the fans here in Tampa Bay.
The large, lumbering defenseman and his booming slapshot earned our respect and our admiration. Though it's easy to pick apart his defensive game, it's also easy to cite how we got a kick out of seeing him shatter panes of glass with his slap shot. That and contributing 42 points last season was also a plus.
Kurtis Foster also has not had the best of off-seasons. His infant daughter passed on only five days after her birth, shocking fans and the hockey world at the same time. New Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik and assistant GM Tom Kurvers both attended the memorial service for Lila Foster...
But here we are a month and a half later, at the eve of free agency 2010 and Kurtis Foster has not had his contract renewed. Though he has said recently that he wants to remain in Tampa. Fresh comments indicate he's even willing to sign on the cheap to stay in town:
"I'd probably play in Tampa for less than I would to go somewhere else. ... It's where we want to be. My wife and I love it there."
And the fans love you here, Kurtis. But what about the new general manager?
Steve Yzerman's plate is full for a first time GM. Not only did he get into the job only a month ago, but he's searched and hired a head coach, operated his first NHL draft, has to assess talent and players currently on the Lightning roster, and now has to prepare for NHL free agency.
"It's pretty frustrating," Foster said of the lack of tangible progress in his contract talks. "It's almost like they're pushing me to look another way."Foster said his agent has had some contact with general manager Steve Yzerman, but no serious talks have taken place and no numbers have been exchanged. Foster, 28, would seem to have some value. He is coming off a career season in which he had eight goals and 42 points, including three goals and 29 points from the high slot on the power play, combining with forwards Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis as the core of the No. 1 unit.
One aspect of things to be reminded of and to touch on with the Foster situation is that Fozzie has been the only right-handed shot on defense in the system.... Until Saturday. When the Lightning selected Brock Beukeboom, Radko Gudas, and Geoffrey Schemitsch, they secured the rights to three right-handed defensive shots. As BoltProspects.com writer Pete Chocquette pointed out to us in an earlier post:
Kurtis Foster has a very rare and particular gift: he's a righty point shot who can run your power play. They're as rare as hens teeth and 1000 times as valuable. That's why it was so foolish to trade Dan Boyle, and that's why if the Lightning don't re-sign Kurtis, they're going to have to find another righty shot defenseman or forward to play point on the power play...
So three righty shots, three potential new point men for the power play. Great. Good. Fine. Now what about the fact Yzerman has stressed that they are not going to rush anyone? It's what makes it seem foolish that Yzerman had seemingly alienated his NHL-ready, right-point shot on defense.
Despite Foster's misgivings, Yzerman later expressed a far different sentiment from what Foster had been suggesting:
A day after defenseman Kurtis Foster said he was disappointed with the lack of progress on a new contract, Yzerman said, "We definitely have interest in him coming back."
A deal can still certainly be done, of course. It's just a matter of timing at this point, as well as how much the interest of other teams drives up Foster's price. And, of course, communication. Which there appears to be a lack of.