Tonight is a pretty special night for the staff here at Bolt Prospects. Tonight marked the 41st decision of the NHL career of Karri Ramo. It was also the 41st game of the season for Matt Smaby. Both are milestones for graduation from prospect status here at Bolt Prospects. Both young men are now considered NHLers in our eyes.
It's somewhat fitting that these two players should graduate on the same night. There have only been four players who have ever held the title of top rated prospect on this site. Smaby was the first when we debuted the rankings at the start of the 2005-2006 season. He held the title shortly for half a season before giving way to his teammate Ramo, who was standing on his head as a rookie for Springfield in the AHL. Ramo held the top spot before giving way to top draft pick Steven Stamkos, who graduated from prospect status earlier this season. Steve Downie earned the top spot in our Midterm Rankings shortly after Stamkos' graduation.
With the Lightning going on a bit of a run, picking up points in 8 of their last 10 games, the team has played itself out of the second position for the draft lottery and now sits 1 point above Colorado in the standings. Considering the Avalanche's talented young center, Paul Stastny, just broke his foot and will probably be out for the remainder of the season, the Lightning may end up locked into the third position in the draft lottery. That would mean the odds would overwhelmingly favor the club picking third or fourth in the upcoming 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Picking in one of the first two slots in this draft would be fairly easy. London center John Tavares and MODO defenseman Victor Hedman have rightfully dominated the draft discussion. Picking third is a different animal altogether. It's a scenario not unlike the 2001 draft when the Lightning lost out on the opportunity to draft Ilya Kovalchuk or Jason Spezza when Atlanta won the draft lottery and pushed the team down to pick number three.
The good news is, I don't think the Lightning are going to get stuck with a lemon like Alex Svitov if they don't wind up in the top two picks. There are quality players on the board that should add to the core of the Lightning rebuilding project. Here's my board thus far:
1.) C John Tavares, 6'0" 198 lbs, London (OHL)
2.) D Victor Hedman, 6'6" 220 lbs, MODO (SWE)
More on the flip
A quick update for anyone interested in upcoming prospect graduations...
Karri Ramo needs just 6 more decisions to graduate from prospect status according to our site's criteria.
Matt Smaby needs just 11 more games this season to graduate.
Noah Welch needs just 13 more games this season to graduate.
The Lightning have exactly 13 games remaining on their schedule. Bolt Prospects will issue its Final Rankings for the 2008-2009 season following the conclusion of all prospects' playoff seasons, and with prospects like Dustin Tokarski, James Wright, and Luca Cunti possibly poised to make some deep runs, it may be a while. Expect significant changes at the top of the list, though, with two of the only four prospects ever to hold the #1 spot (Stamkos and Downie being the other two) on our rankings likely to graduate by year's end. And then there's the playoffs...
It should be fun.
Tragically, the Lightning had a death in the family this week, as former owner Bill Davidson passed away at the age of 86. Davidson, who built a billion dollar business, sports and entertainment empire, won three NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons, one NHL championship with the Lightning, one IHL championship with the Detroit Vipers, and three WNBA championships with the Detroit Shock. In short, Davidson left a tradition of success wherever he went, whether it was in building his family's glass company into a global giant, or building the Palace of Auburn Hills without a dime of public money.
I don't know if I'm the best person to write about Bill Davidson, because I always got the impression from watching Davidson that if you locked he and I in a room we probably wouldn't have agreed about anything: politics, business, sports, etc. Then again, maybe that makes me the perfect person to write about Davidson's impact on the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise, because I've never really viewed Davidson through the lens of doe-eyed admiration or sentimentality.
Did I have disagreements with the way Davidson ran the Lightning? Sure. I especially had disagreements with the trust he places in Palace Sports and Entertainment executive Tom Wilson who, in a fit of PR genius, was quoted in the Detroit papers the day after Davidson bought the Lightning as claiming PS&E didn't care about the hockey team and only was interested in turning the then Ice Palace and the parcels of land surrounding it into a profit generating machine. Davidson ran the Lightning with a patience, coolness, and dispassion that, in my mind, surely came from being an owner who wasn't from Tampa and probably always viewed the Lightning as a stepchild to his beloved Pistons. Some of his budget decisions probably prolonged the time it took for the Lightning to rebuild, and the faith he also placed in some of the former hockey operations people from his Detroit Vipers probably also prolonged the time that Lightning fans had to suffer watching last place hockey.
But, with that said, I can't argue that Bill Davidson didn't improve the condition of the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise immeasurably in the time that he owned it. It's also inarguable, in my mind, that the franchise has slid backwards, to a degree, since he sold the team. Davidson and his PS&E management brought professionalism and real-world experience to a franchise that had been nothing short of a zoo in the years that it was owned by Japanese consortium Kokusai, and flamboyant braggart Art Williams. He might have done it at a slow and steady pace, but he brought a championship to a Lightning team that only managed two playoff wins in all the preceeding years before he bought the club.
That, ultimately, is the only objective way we can measure a man's success in his life's endeavors, whether they're in his family, his business, or in a multi-million dollar sports franchise. Did you leave it better off than when you came into it? Bill Davidson left the Lightning better off than when he gained control of the team, turning it from one of the NHL's longest running jokes into a team that, for a time, was touted as the very model of how a franchise should be run in a small, Southern market. That's the legacy Bill Davidson left behind, and that's why this writer and everyone at Bolt Prospects extends our condolences to the family and friends of Bill Davidson on this sad day. And, that's why, no matter what happens, the Davidson family will always have a place in the Tampa Bay Lightning family.
"Center Chris Gratton has been claimed off re-entry waivers today by the Columbus Blue Jackets."
I wonder the claiming of Chris Gratton will affect Columbus' (alleged) pursuit of Jeff Halpern. It might be good for the Lightning to trade him away, especially if they are able to get a decent return, ie. Jakub Voracek or Derick Brassard. It might be difficult to get such a high return for Halpern, but it would be good for the Lightning if they were able to.