As the Tampa Bay Lightning prepare to embark on the future with new ownership and a new front office, we continue our look at what may be in store for the team through the NHL entry draft and unrestricted free agency with part 2 of our season preview, a more in depth look at the defense.
For years, even though the Lightning have struggled with defense at the NHL level, they were thought to have a system well stocked with defensive prospects. But in an effort to rebuild the forward depth within the organization, defense has not really been a huge priority in recent drafts. It's a position that I would expect Steve Yzerman to address for both the short term and the long term moving forward.
Lets start with the big club. You have Andrej Meszaros (I am expecting him to have a solid bounce back year in a Guy Boucher system where puck moving defenseman thrive) Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman, Matt Walker, Matt Smaby and Mike Lundin all under contract for this year. If Yzerman were to try to make some moves on the back end, could Walker and Smaby be candidates in trades? At least on the surface it would appear that they would be options once we get a better understanding of what Boucher's systems is.
Also something to keep an eye on, Paul Ranger, who took most of last year off on a personal leave, just received a qualifying offer. This does not mean that he is necessarily coming back, it just retains his rights for the Lightning should he decide to come back. If he should decide to come back, I would imagine that he would be a shoe-in for a top 6 spot on the NHL team.
I expect to see Ty Wishart make a move to grab a roster spot with a strong showing over the summer and in training camp. Matt Lashoff and Vladimir Mihalik could also find themselves in the mix in September. So where does that leave Steve Yzerman now in terms of what is on the roster now and what will be available to him?
This year's version of the NHL entry draft has quite a few defenseman high on most boards. With the 6th overall pick, the Lightning may be able to snag one of the better ones. The idea for taking a defenseman with this pick is that you will ultimately get one who will be ready to step into your top 6 and contribute rather quickly, something the Lightning desperately need.
Another positive is that with Hedman, you will have a top pairing defense to build around for many years to come. Defenseman expected to go in the top 10 include Erik Gudbranson, Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley. Gormley could be a perfect with the Lightning. He scored 43 points in 58 games for Moncton of the QMJHL last year, so a high offense, uptempo system that Guy Boucher is likely to bring could be a perfect fit for him. If he is still available when the Lightning head to the podium, the Lightning should strongly consider him.
When unrestricted free agency rolls around, the name that appears to be popular amongst Lightning fans is puck moving defenseman Paul Martin of the New Jersey Devils. There are a couple of problems with this scenario. I am not entirely convinced that he will make it to July 1, and if he does, he will be one of the most sought after free agents on the market. In other words, he wont come cheap, which most likely eliminates him from Yzerman's wish list. Another name to possibly consider: Anton Volchenkov of the Ottawa Senators. One of his bis biggest strengths is his shot blocking ability. Similar to Martin, he will not come cheap. However, it is rumored that he is looking for $4-$5 million. I would be surprised to see any team pay that for him, so if he gets three days into free agency with no contract, maybe the Lightning get involved.
Lightning radio on the road
Check out the weekly Lightning radio show on Wednesday night as they continue the Chili's Summer Tour. This week they will be visiting the Chili's in Pinellas Park. It is located at 7250 US 19. (In the Parkside Mall) The festivities get under way at 6 p.m. There will be appearances by Thunderbug and the Lightning girls as well as giveaways.
The Lightning will be hosting a Draft Party at the St Pete Times Forum on Friday night. Here are the details from the press release:
The Tampa Bay Lightning will hold a viewing party for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in the Channelside Club at the St. Pete Times Forum in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Storms game against the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings (8 p.m.) beginning at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 25. This years NHL Draft is being held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles , California and the Lightning currently hold the sixth overall selection.
Before fans enter the building they will be treated to Lightning street hockey on the west plaza of the Times Forum with instruction by the teams youth hockey and fan development staff. Fans can also get their very own draft score by participating in a skills challenge that includes slap shot speed and accuracy, goaltending, physical strength and puck handling. Afterward each participant will receive a scorecard. ThunderBug and the Lightning Girls will also be on the plaza prior to the game and in the club during the party.
The event will feature the draft on numerous televisions inside the club as well as on the south end of LightningVision. The 2010 NHL Draft on Lightning Hockey Night will be held LIVE from the Channelside Club from 7-9 p.m. on AM 1250 WHNZ with hosts Dave Mishkin, Chris Dingman and Bobby the Chief Taylor. Fans will be able to submit questions and have them answered by the hosts during the show. The show will feature a special pre-draft interview with Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman about his thoughts going into the draft. The interview will also air in the club and on LightningVision.
After the radio show Mishkin, the Chief and Dingman will host an informal question and answer session to give their reaction to the first round.
Before the Lightning make their selection fans can put their scouting hat on in the Amateur Scout for a Day contest. They can simply enter by picking which player they think Tampa Bay will select in the first round and the correct answer will be eligible to win a Steve Yzerman signed jersey.
All fans in attendance at the party will be able to enter to win Lightning prizes and spin a wheel for a chance to win great ticket deals and other items. NHL Draft merchandise will be sold exclusively in the Channelside Club and the Lightning Foundation will also be on hand.
Tickets are just $25 and includes a Lightning hat, all you can eat hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, nacho bar and pasta station as well as complimentary beer, wine and soda. Each ticket also includes great seats in the Channelside Club for the Storm vs. Battle Wings game. To order tickets fans should call 813.301.6600.