Gary Shelton had an article in the Tampa Tribune today interviewing former GM and Lightning founder Phil Esposito. For those who may not have read my blog post a year ago when the Lightning were reportedly thinking of moving Vincent Lecavalier prior to the draft, and Espo put his foot down in opposition to it, I am an absolute fan of The Godfather. When he speaks, you better damned well listen. So when I read that, "(Esposito) has talked about a role, perhaps as a consultant, with Vinik," I say you're a smart man, Jeffrey Vinik. Nobody knows this franchise better than Espo, nobody cares about this franchise more than Espo, and nobody is a better salesman for hockey in Tampa Bay, either. That man could sell a Mitsubishi to Lee Iacocca, and talk the CEO of Pepsi into putting a Coke machine in his lobby. He's that good, and while his time in the GM's chair may be past, he still has a lot more to give to this franchise, and I think he needs his name on the Cup one more time.
On a rather sad note, today will mark the final game for the ECHL's Johnstown Chiefs in Johnstown, PA. The franchise, owned by former NHL GM Neil Smith, has been plagued by financial problems for years and will be moving to Greenville, SC next season. Johnstown was the Tampa Bay Lightning's ECHL affiliate for three years between 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. Three of the Lightning's prospects who played in Johnstown have since seen time in the NHL: Radek Smolenak, Jay Rosehill, and Andre Deveaux.
I can honestly say that, outside of Norfolk Admirals fans, I don't think there's been an affiliate's fan base that was more supportive of their club than the fans of the Johnstown Chiefs. I'm sure this is a major blow for a town that has had some challenges over the past few years. Bolt Prospects salutes the fans of the Johnstown Chiefs and we hope that Johnstown, PA gets another franchise soon.
We're seeing a narrowing and tightening in the field of teams vying to make the postseason in the AHL's Eastern Conference. Three teams look pretty much guaranteed to be in: Hershey (109 pts, 1st in East), Worcester (89 points, 1st in Atlantic), and Portland (86 points, 2nd in Atlantic).
Albany (84 points, 2nd in East) is probably a very good bet to hang onto a playoff spot, but they're not a lock to remain in 2nd place in the East. The Admirals, for instance, are 6 points back of Albany with 1 game in hand and 1 game head-to-head remaining on the schedule. So, things could tighten up even more very quickly, especially if the Rats keep stubbing their toes against teams like Binghamton.
They're the first of six teams, including the Admirals, fighting for five playoff spots. Typically, they'd be treated separately by division, but with the crossover rule potentially vaulting a 5th place Atlantic team over a 4th place East team, we should treat them as lumped together. The other five teams are: Manchester (79 points, 3rd in Atlantic), Lowell (79 points, 3rd in Atlantic), Norfolk (78 points, 3rd in East), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (77 points, 4th in East), Bridgeport (75 points, 5th in Atlantic).
Here's what's left for the six teams:
The KHL's regular season came to a close Sunday, the NCAA is in the midst of its conference playoffs, and Canadian junior regular seasons will be closing next weekend. So, it's getting close to signing season, and I figured I'd post a little on the blog about some of the players who will potentially be joining the organization in the coming weeks and months. Before I do, though, I wanted to quickly address the new ownership situation.
Norfolk coach Darren Rumble said he was going with the goalie who showed more consistency and wins. With Dustin Tokarski and Riku Helenius both splitting time at the net, Tokarski has emerged lately as the go-to guy.
As Pete reported, Tokarski allowed one goal on 26 shots Friday against Binghamton, and shutout Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Wednesday. Heâ€™s currently tied for third among AHL rookies, and is ranked ninth among the league with 10 wins.