By Ryan S. Clark
Grab lunch. Play with the dog. Secure your NHL future.
That pretty much summed up Brian Lee’s Thursday afternoon, with the former Moorhead High School and University of North Dakota star signing a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It was an easy decision for me,” Lee said. “I really liked it there and everyone from the front office in management and the staff to the players are great people and I enjoyed dealing with them.”
Lee’s new deal comes almost exactly four months to the day when he was traded from the Ottawa Senators to the Lightning.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman was the ninth overall pick by the Senators in 2005.
He played bits and pieces of four seasons, never really finding a place with the Senators.
Ottawa traded Lee, 25, to Tampa Bay for former Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy, and within 24 hours he was playing for his new team without even having one practice.
“I was traded at noon and got there at 2 a.m. and played that night,” Lee said. “I had to learn on the go and fly by the seat of my pants. It worked out well. The players down there are so smart that it made it easier to read off of them.”
Lee instantly made an impact in Tampa Bay, putting up eight points in 20 games as he was given more ice time.
In his 35 games with Ottawa, Lee was averaging around 13 to 14 minutes of ice time and 18 games with 20 or more shifts. He put up eight points – all assists – in that span.
Tampa Bay’s system gave Lee more ice time as he averaged 17 minutes of ice time and had 18 games with 20 or more shifts.
Altogether, he played in a career-high 55 games, scoring a career-high 16 points last season.
“We ran a 1-3-1 and we have that last guy at the back who is the defenseman,” Lee said of Tampa Bay’s system. “It is like playing center field, and it is something you do have to adjust to.”
Lee said the new system was good for him because it requires strong skating, something he considers one of his best attributes.
With Lee signing a one-way contract, it means he won’t have to worry about playing the yo-yo game of going up and down between the minor leagues and the NHL.
Additionally, it means he’ll be able to focus on a team that will feature at least six former first-round picks.
The group includes two former No. 1 overall picks in team captain Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos, who led the NHL in goals with 60 last season.
Tampa Bay finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, a year after it was one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals.
“I think everything (with the organization) is exciting,” Lee said. “We are going to look to make the playoffs and when you look at our roster, if we can get in, we got some guys who can do some damage.”
Sports | June 29, 2012 | Page D1, D2
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