Lightning Round: 25 years since Gratton Fax-Gate | Panda Anku

25 years ago Phil Esposito, founder and CEO of Tampa Bay Lightning, claimed he couldn’t read a fax. It was a fairly obvious ploy (though not as obvious as Fernando Tatis Jr.’s “Ringworm” ploy) to buy time to work out a deal to pick young center Chris Gratton against just over the four draft picks in exchange they would receive from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for not matching the bid sheet they signed him on earlier in the week.

For those who might not remember one of the more infamous moments in Lightning history, back in 1997 the Lightning was a team looking for a new owner. Cash was a bit tight and Gratton was a 22-year-old center coming off a season in which he scored 30 goals and added 32 assists. He was also a restricted free agent who wanted to get paid. Mr. Esposito didn’t have the money to commit him to a fair market deal.

So he traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks on August 4 for Ethan Moreau and Keith Carney. The only problem was that just hours earlier, the Flyers had signed Gratton to a five-year, $16.5 million deal. To be honest, the Lightning probably could have kept up if the money was spread out over the life of the deal, but the Flyers had included a $9 million signing bonus in the first year — a sum that’s roughly half payroll von Lighting accounted for last season.

Needless to say, they didn’t have the money to match, so Mr. Esposito claimed he couldn’t read the numbers on the fax, so it wasn’t a valid offer. That allowed him to trade with Chicago (teams were not allowed to trade the rights of a restricted free agent who had a valid offer sheet from another team).

excised from the August 16, 1997 issue of the Tampa Tribune via

The Lightning also argued that they finalized the deal with Chicago before the fax, but were unable to contact the league with the details, possibly because Bill Daly, the NHL’s vice president at the time, didn’t turn on his phone.

Of course, the Flyers didn’t buy any of this and took an arbitrator. On August 15, 11 days after the whole mess started, John Sands ruled that the offer sheet was valid and that the Lightning must agree with it or take compensation from the Flyers. Needless to say, Mr. Esposito was not happy with the decision and made it known Tampa Tribune*:

“Don’t you think this thing is over yet. Payback is from *tch“.

He also did not accept compensation from four first-round draft picks. Well he did, but then he traded them back to the Flyers for Mikael Renberg and Karl Dykhuis. For the record, the Flyers drafted Simon Gagne, Maxime Ouellett and Justin Williams with those picks (they traded the 2001 picks with Ottawa, who drafted Tim Gleason).

According to his autobiography Thunder and lightning, Mr. Esposito claims he had another deal on the table with Flyers GM Bobby Clark. Not only would they get Dykhuis and Renberg, but Rod “The Bod” Brind’Amour would join the Lightning if Mr. Esposito also included a second-round pick in the deal.

Unfortunately, Mr. Esposito claims that Lightning CEO Steve Oto struck a deal with Flyers owner Ed Snider for Renberg, Dykhuis and Dan Kordic. That was the only deal Ed Snider would accept. Mr. Esposito wasn’t a fan of Kordic (or Oto) so he ended up not being included in the deal.

In a way, the Lightning paid off a bit when the Lightning reacquired Gratton along with Mike Sillinger for Daymond Langkow and Renberg a little over a year later. So, essentially, they got him without having to pay the signing bonus. Gratton played another 110 games for the Bolts between 1998 and 2000, recording 67 points (21 goals, 46 assists) before they traded him to Buffalo for a package with Brian Holzinger, Wayne Primeau and Cory Sarich.

He would return to the Blitz once more in 2007 when the Florida Panthers traded him to Tampa Bay for a second-round pick (who became Jacob Markstrom). He added another 10 goals during his third stint with the team.

What a time to be alive.

*Simple Fax: A Legible Proposal” Ira Kaufman, Tampa GrandstandAugust 16, 1997. Retrieved from on August 14, 2022.

Lightning / NHL News

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Two national titles and three international medals? Not bad for a pair of siblings in their early twenties.

Top 20 centers []

Connor McDavid gets the nod over Auston Matthews (in a move that will irk Toronto and Colorado fans – Nathan MacKinnon finished third). The Lightning placed two players in the top 11 as Steven Stamkos finished 7th and Braydon Point 11th.

Mike Rupp on Stamkos:

“He’s not one dimensional and here’s the thing about Steven Stamkos and the thing that makes me a huge fan of his is his approach to the game is pro through and through. He’ll do anything if he’s not scoring goals. He hits everything that moves, blocks and shoots. He’s a superstar who plays like an RPG. He will do whatever the team needs.”

Team USA has named the team that will take part in the upcoming Women’s World Championships in Denmark, which start on August 25th. It will be Hilary Knight’s 12th appearance at the World Championships.

Yesterday’s results at the Men’s U20 World Junior Championship

Finland 9, Slovakia 3

Latvia 5, Czech Republic 2

USA 3, Sweden 2

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