Pete Choquette's blog
For anyone who is wondering, here was Red Line Report's take on defenseman Ty Wishart heading into the 2006 draft. Wishart was ranked the 16th best prospect in the draft class by Red Line, and here is what they had to say:
It's amazing how much can change in the span of a week. This was supposed to be simply a draft review follow up on my previous blog entry "Five Days Before Ottawa." But, as I mentioned in that article, with the new ownership shoes have been falling fast and furious in Tampa Bay. Since that time the Lightning not only conducted their first draft under the Oren Koules regime, but they also named Barry Melrose Head Coach, locked up Vaclav Prospal to a long term deal, and acquired the negotiating rights for Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts who are expected to ink deals tomorrow with the team. And there's still July 1st to look forward to on Tuesday.
How will these deals work out? Hard to say. Am I enthusiastic about having Vaclav Prospal signed to a contract that will end when he's 38 years old (and having to see his skating at that age)? Not really. Do I have any idea what Barry Melrose's system will look like after 13 years away from hockey? I'd be lying if I said I did (and I'd be lying if I said I was really enthusiastic about Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet's off-ice baggage coming with him). Does Gary Roberts still have any gas in the tank? If he does it'll probably be worth $5 a gallon by the end of this coming season. And, am I really stoked about potentially signing Ryan Malone to a 7 year contract worth nearly $4.5 million dollars a year after a 51 point season that was just 3 points better than Michel Ouellet's last campaign in a Pens uniform? The new ownership is definitely rolling the dice with all of these moves.
Now, that said, it's nice to be shopping for groceries at the Whole Foods rather than the Super Wal-Mart for a change. The thing about a guy like Malone is that he does have the potential to be a second liner, whereas bargain bin players like Jan Hlavac the Lightning signed in previous years due to PS&E's budget constraints had little chance of being legitimate NHL scoring line threats. And while I won't back off my statement that OK Hockey projects the image that the circus is coming to town, I would like to praise them on very professionally handling the draft. There's some temptation for new ownership groups to make gigantic splashes at the draft, and Koules certainly could've tried to climb the ladder to get another first round pick. That wouldn't have been wise for the Lightning given the assets they had on hand, however, so discretion was the better part of valor. Koules polished off his first draft by making a nice PR move selecting David Carle as well, which sends a nice message throughout the hockey community that this organization does have a pretty big heart. So, altogether, it was a pretty good weekend in Ottawa. I thought the Lightning's draft last year was deeper and more on point with what needs to be done to rebuild the forward depth in the organization with it's emphasis on smaller speed-oriented players, but the team did get a franchise player in Stamkos and some nice depth players at the goaltending and defenseman positions in this draft. No complaints there. Next year's draft, now that the Lightning will have a pair of second round picks, will be a bigger opportunity for the organization to replenish depth.
Anyway, on to the players:
We've been very quiet here at Bolt Prospects lately. It's not for a lack of interest in the team, mind you, or excitement about the impending draft. However, it's hard to post commentary at this time with so much up in the air. After years of having the same ownership and hockey operations team in place, it was easy to predict what the Lightning were going to do and what kind of players they would pursue. However, with new owner Oren Koules coming in with an ownership group suspected of also including former NHLers Len Barrie and Luc Robitaille and Head Coach John Tortorella cut loose with rumors of ESPN analyst Barry Melrose taking over, it's difficult to know what kind of players the Lightning will pursue. If Melrose does indeed take over, what will his system look like after 13 years out of coaching? How will he handle the new rules? No red line? It's impossible to say.
And so, my personal draft preview has to begin with this admission: I'm apprehensive about the ownership situation, and as the weeks go on I continue to wait for the next shoe to drop, and then the next, and then the next. Having a new ownership group which is more enthusiastic about hockey and willing to put more money into the on ice product is potentially exciting. But the idea of a cast of amateurs and/or people who have been away from the game for many, many years swooping in and hiring their cronies and giving them key positions of leadership in the hockey operations is frightening. I worry about the level of professionalism this new group is going to have, and without saying much of a word in the media Koules and his people have already managed to project the image of a traveling circus that is coming to town. Friday and Saturday's draft will be their first opportunity to show to the hockey world that they bring organizational discipline and rigor to the table, and not just the flash of a Hollywood production.
From a personnel standpoint, there's no secrets going into this draft. The biggest hole in the organization is at the second line center position, and Steve Stamkos will fill that hole immediately. Barring the Stamkos family car driving off a cliff on the way to Ottawa, the talented Sarnia pivot will be the number one pick Friday night, as evidenced by the fact the Lightning have been marketing the young man through their "Seen Stamkos?" campaign for the last two months. Having read the scouting reports from three independent organizations and having watched several of his World Junior Championships games, I have come to one conclusion: Steven Stamkos will be the most complete and most NHL ready player the Tampa Bay Lightning have ever selected in their history, including Vincent Lecavalier. He has been universally compared to former Red Wings great Steve Yzerman, and I have to say the comparisons are apt. On tape, like Yzerman, there's no one thing about Stamkos' game that makes me say, "Wow, he's going to be one of the best two or three in the game at that!" A guy like Mikkel Boedker, for instance, is a better skater than Stamkos, while heralded 2009 eligible John Tavares struck me as a better natural finisher. However, if you look across the board, there really are no weaknesses in Stamkos' game. He may not be the best at any one thing, but like Yzerman I suspect that when Stamkos matures he will be one of the best 10-15 players in the game at pretty much everything. Skating. Finishing. Passing the puck. Moving away from the puck. Back checking. Faceoffs. Battle level. Leadership intangibles. You have to put a check by every single one of these when looking at Stamkos.
Lost between the cracks of the John Tortorella/Oren Koules fiasco, the Lightning have reached an agreement with defenseman prospect Kevin Quick on an entry level deal. The word broke Saturday on Erik Erlendsson's blog. Quick played 18 games for Norfolk of the AHL last season on an ATO contract after being dismissed from the University of Michigan.
At the end of one period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals, Pittsburgh has Philadelphia on the brink of elimination leading 2-0 in the game and 3-1 in the series. If this is the Flyers' final game of the season, Bolt Prospects would like to take this opportunity to thank the Lightning's long time rivals. Part of the Vaclav Prospal for Alexandre Picard swap made at the deadline was a conditional pick with the Lightning receiving a 2nd round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft if the Flyers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. So Flyers fans, don't look at the beat down you're catching from the Pens as a total loss. At least you're helping the Lightning's cause. Tampa Bay will have multiple second round picks for the first time since the 2003 NHL Entry Draft with the very real possibility of having three top-60 picks for the first time since the 1995 NHL Entry Draft (when there were only 26 teams in the league). So, while Steve Stamkos' impending selection at #1 overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft may be the Lightning's most important single draft pick in a decade, next year's 2009 NHL Entry Draft is shaping up to potentially be its most important draft overall since 1998 in terms of organizational depth and strength.
Note that, as Bolt Prospects pointed out at the All-Star Break, about 7 in 10 NHL players who have made the league from the 2002 NHL Entry Draft forward came from the top-60 picks. The Lightning had the third least top-60 picks over the same time period with just 7. So, for the Lightning, 2009 appears to be a golden opportunity to replenish the system and augment the successes the Lightning have already had in the later rounds of the draft beyond pick 100.
Damian Crisdotero is reporting in his blog that the Lightning are in talks with Russian forward and Bolt Prospects alumni Evgeny Artyukhin. Artyukhin has spent the past two seasons in the Russian Superleague after leaving the NHL due to a prolonged contract dispute with the Lightning.
The last couple of years I've from time to time dabbled in trying to predict the future in terms of contract movement inside the organization in this post I like to call In, Out, and Up. This year is probably the most difficult of all to get a read on because of several non-contract members of the minor league affiliate in Norfolk making such strong pushes for contracts and uncertainty at the forward position at the top level in Tampa. Still, here are my best guesses on who gets into the organization, who gets kicked out, and who makes it up to Tampa Bay.
With tonight's loss and LA's win, the Lightning moved into the top spot in the Steve Stamkos sweepstakes, although they have a game in hand on the Kings.
You've all heard it by now. Rumors are swirling that the Lightning are accepting offers for star center Brad Richards and will soon present to him the cities that have made bids in the hopes he will waive his no-trade clause. Columbus, Dallas, and Vancouver are all supposedly the frontrunners for Richards' services as the Lightning, supposedly, are hell bent on shedding Richards' $7.8 million dollar contract.
I feel sick to my stomach, and so does every single member of the Lightning fan base I've talked to.
In the post lockout world the Lightning made a strategic move to lock up their core players to big contracts: Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Dan Boyle, and Brad Richards. Although they have been constantly lambasted for following that path, time has borne out that the Lightning were right to do so. As Ryan Dixon pointed out on his blog for The Hockey News, many NHL teams have followed the Lightning in investing heavily in locking up their core players. Several teams, like Detroit, have tied up even more money than the Lightning have in just a handful of players. While the hockey media has waved the bloody shirt about the Lightning's cap management, the truth is the Lightning were merely the first to embrace the realities of the new CBA. So lets get that out of the way right now: there's nothing wrong with what the Lightning did in locking up their core. Where they went wrong was in picking complimentary pieces like Marc Denis that haven't worked out. And then, of course, there's the little matter of Dan Boyle dropping a skate on his wrist.
So time and the rest of the league's moves have proven Jay Feaster was right to invest in his stars and yet, still, we have an amazing crisis in faith playing out right now in which the Lightning seem hell bent to abandon the principles they've built this franchise on for the past half a decade to try to become "cheaper and deeper". Worse still, they seem eager to do so by not only trading one of their core players, but by trading one of THE core players of this franchise. As early as the 2002-2003 season it became clear that Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards formed the axis around which the whole future of the Tampa Bay Lightning would revolve. They won a Cup, two division titles, and made four straight playoff appearances together. Now, if Richards leaves, do the Lightning really have a future?
What the Lightning ought to be doing is trading off just about every other piece of the puzzle but Brad Richards. In dealing off players like Prospal, Gratton, Kuba, Holmqvist, the team could free up around $8 million dollars in payroll. Spending that $8 million dollars (to say nothing of the money that could be saved by buying out Marc Denis, and dealing off lesser pieces like Ryan Craig and Jason Ward before next season) more wisely around Lecavalier and Richards is the way that the Lightning should proceed.
The other myth that needs to be squashed is that the Lightning are right up against the cap because of the money that the team has invested in their star players. The Lightning aren't up against the cap, they're up against (and slightly over) a Bill Davidson, PS&E imposed budget of $45 million dollars. That's well below the salary cap. When word spread that Oren Koules, a former hockey player characterized as a Mark Cuban type owner who would spare no expense to win, was about to buy the team it appeared likely the team's budget would expand to allow more money to build around the core. However, with Koules apparently deeply involved in this Richards deal that appears less and less likely.
Don't get me wrong, I understand Koules is in the process of having to pull off a $200 million dollar purchase of this franchise. I'm sure his accountants are probably telling him that spending $40-45 million dollars on payroll is the only way this works. But let me make this clear to Oren Koules: if that's the rationale behind trading Brad Richards, you sir are being penny wise and pound foolish. Setting this franchise back a half a decade by auctioning off one of its franchise cornerstones to the lowest bidder will doom this franchise to more years of missing the playoffs and missing those all important playoff gate receipts. That, in kind, will lead to a dwindling season ticket base and apathy, and deep bitterness, from a fan base that will rightfully feel burned that the core of a very good team was broken up as a business rather than a hockey decision.
Here at the eleventh hour there is still time for cooler heads to prevail. Oren Koules can still decide to live up to the mantle of franchise savior by keeping the core group together and doing the right thing.
Sometimes the best trades are the ones that aren't made.
Oren Koules, this is your first test as owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. We're all watching and hoping you show the wisdom to do the right thing. Prove to us that this team will guided by hockey decisions, not business decisions, and that you are a man deeply committed to winning. Be the kind of owner this fanbase wants and desperately needs you to be.
Skip ahead to about 30 seconds into the video where Boutin ragdolls Greiss during last night's Admirals game.