If you want to see a franchise that’s in disarray, I’d like to direct your attention to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Over the last year, they’ve had zero continuity at any level within their organization. Coaching issues? They have ‘em. Ownership changes? Check. How about a roster full of guys that had never played together? Yep, they have that covered too. So with the NHL Draft upcoming and the Lightning holding the 2nd overall pick, we thought we’d ask someone who follows the Lightning about their current state of affairs. Where do they stand today? What can we expect on June 26th? Needless to say, the folks over at The Hockey Bay came through for us. Just check out their websites motto: “Following the highs, lows and the sometimes circus-like antics of the Bolts.” Yeah, that’s the kind of group that we can support!
1. What was the biggest strength of last season?
Excuse me? Are you trying to mock me? This is like rubbing salt in the wounds of a Lightning fan.
Strength-wise in management there were not many, but the firing of The Mullet was the realization that some of their decisions made during the summer were bad ones. The coaching change from Melrose to Tocchet helped Steven Stamkos improve his game during his first season in the NHL. He looked like a disappointment in his first 20 games, but ended the season with 23 goals.
The offense of Lecavalier (provided he will still be with the Lightning), Malone, Stamkos and St. Louis, shows the Lightning do have skill on their roster that they can work with. If Mike Smith is able to return to his pre-concussion health, the team has a pretty good goaltender in net. In addition, because of Smith’s concussion injury last season, Karri Ramo got great experience in net as the starter, and will most likely be backing Smitty this season.
2. What was the biggest weakness of the last season?
Where do I start? The management made some horrid decisions for one. Ahem, trading Boyle.
But team-wise? Perhaps I will start with the disaster that is the back end. The management shipped off the defense in a flurry of trades at the beginning of the season, notably Boyle, Lukowich, Kuba, Picard, O’Brien and Eminger. We went through 22 defencemen during the season, and suited up 50 players on our roster. The Lightning are definitely lacking a complete defensive unit. While they do have some stay at home defencemen, they are missing some offense on the blue line. The team is also lacking some size and grit in their roster.
3. What is the biggest strength of the pipeline/young players?
Since there were so many injuries this season with the Lightning, the young players we have did get huge minutes to play, which should improve their game in the long run. It gave them not only NHL-level experience but an opportunity to audition for Tocchet’s roster for this season. In addition to Ramo, the Lightning also have Riku Helenius and (WAC favorite) Dustin Tokarski who helped win the WJC for Canada this year in net.
4. What are the biggest holes in the pipeline/young players?
Drafting. I don’t have a lot of trust in the management’s decision making based on their track record of decisions throughout this year. The 20 game suspension that Steve Downie got this year because of physical abuse of a referee comes to mind when I think about our AHL prospects. Downie is a loose cannon who although apparently talented, I just don’t endorse.
We need a top 4 offensive defenceman that is able to start plays to our forwards and quarterback the power play. A puck moving defenceman would be nice too, but at this point just plain offense from our D would be nice. The Lightning are also missing good wingers, especially so because they have had two defect to the KHL this season and St. Louis won’t be around forever. They acquired Karsums from Boston this year at the trade deadline, but in the games he played he really didn’t demonstrate the finish I was hoping for.
The Lightning are also missing some toughness that Tocchet talks about wanting out of his team. They should look to pick up some size in the later rounds of the draft to build in some toughness and grit to the team.
5. Who do you think GM Brian Lawton will pick?
If they try their hardest not to screw it up, and perhaps write the cheat sheet on their hand, they will pick Hedman. If Hedman is not available, they will pick Tavares.
6. Who do you think your team SHOULD pick?
Based on their decimated blue line, and the fact that they do have Lecavalier, Stamkos and Halpern as centers, they should pick Hedman who looks like he could be a franchise caliber defenceman.
Lawton will have a huge decision to make if Hedman is selected by the Islanders. He will then be faced with a decision to trade Vinny to improve the blue line, giving the Lightning Stamkos and Tavares to lead the team, which could be comparable to Crosby/Malkin in Pittsburgh. Or, whether he may trade the pick to a team, i.e. Toronto, and drop down in the draft.
If ever there was a team that was in desperate need of a cornerstone defenseman, the Tampa Bay is it. Matt Lashoff, Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros are nice and all—but none of them would be even in the top pairing of any of the 16 playoff teams. Nor do they have the potential to be. Hello Victor Hedman! We’ll see if the Lightning GM uses the cheat-sheet provided by The Hockey Bay! I’m sure the fans hope they do!
We’ll be doing the same thing every day between now and the NHL Draft on June 26th. If you want to know anything more about the Lightning, The Hockey Bay is a great resource that you might want to check out. As for this site, tomorrow we’ll be taking a look at the Colorado Avalanche and their #3 overall pick. Here’s a schedule of the teams we’ll be looking at in the days leading up to the draft, as well as the teams that we’ve already covered. We’ll see you tomorrow!