BP Mailbag: 1-9-14

My resolution to do a mailbag each week of 2014 reaches week 2, outlasting half the New Year’s diets started in America. Bully for me, I guess, and hopefully for you if you get anything out of these. At the least, you can read this on your phone while waiting in the two open lines at your local Walmart. Remember, 20 items or less unless you have more than 20 items.

On to the questions, and I said on Twitter I’d answer them all.

I know it's well before trade deadline, but do you see Yzerman making any big moves (or what he should be doing?) (Christine via Twitter, Thomas via Twitter)

This question was asked twice, so I’ll answer it first. When guessing, I like to keep things simple and as realistic as possible (read: no blockbusters). Big trades at the deadline are hard to pull off, and even when a GM can, they’re highly expensive. Yzerman loves his prospects and picks, so it would have to be a pretty substantial player that could play now and 2-3 years from now with the club to use up his prized assets.

Re-adding Stamkos will likely be the biggest addition Yzerman makes at the deadline. And really, he’s right. Here, division contender, add arguably the best goal scorer in the world to your club. Happy?

I think Yzerman should acquire a defenseman, preferably in the 4-5 range. It will be moderately expensive, but he has to have Sami Salo insurance if the Lightning are headed to the playoffs and especially if they’re favored in Round 1. Salo getting hurt means more minutes for Brewer and Sustr, who are much more valuable with moderate minutes. Brewer is not at his best above the 17-minute mark and Sustr’s not there yet, especially when you consider it’s playoff hockey.

What happens with Jaroslav Janus next season? Has he not got a shot at being our #2? (Connor via Twitter)

Goaltender Jaro Janus is completing the second year of a 2-year KHL deal with Bratislava. He left for Europe a season ago to gain more ice time and this past summer chose to play out his contract in the KHL (he may have reconsidered if he knew how bad his team would be this year). When he left, the Lightning viewed it as a positive and assistant general manager Julien BriseBois said he could still be an NHL goaltender despite taking the Europe route.

Next year Ben Bishop will be under contract and barring a disaster, still the Lightning’s No. 1. Anders Lindback is a restricted free agent and I highly doubt they’d fail to qualify him and lose him for nothing. Riku Helenius is also an RFA, but after his recent demotion to the ECHL, speculation is he’s bolting for Europe again and Tampa Bay won’t stand in his way. Cedrick Desjardins is an unrestricted free agent and I’ll be surprised if he comes back as there are younger ‘tenders needing his ice time, mainly Kristers Gudlevskis (already under contract) and super-prospect Andrey Vasilevskiy.

As we say over and over here, Yzerman wants his prospects playing, so as of now I fully expect Syracuse’s tandem to be Gudlevskis-Vasilevskiy next year. There are enough back-to-back games in the AHL season to keep both goaltenders fat and giggly (paraphrasing Kramer).

Janus isn’t signed (RFA; TB holds rights), so he’ll have to be signed in some way, shape, or form to attend camp. Contract legalities aren’t my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure as a qualified RFA he’d have to be signed by TB to appear in camp and battle Lindback for the No. 2. A tryout deal won’t work here.

It’s becoming clear that Lindback isn’t in the Lightning’s future plans (Bishop, Vasilevskiy, Gudlevskis/Wilcox), so if a team like Nashville wants to offer something for Lindback, I think Yzerman has to listen. (Insert predictable Nashville fan complaints here)

A darkhorse here is Vasily Koshechkin, who’s been a darkhorse since the Puppa era it seems. He wouldn’t come over for an AHL gig, but he may for guaranteed NHL time just to check that off his career accomplishments list. He’s a star in the KHL so he doesn’t have to move, but it may be worth a phone call to see if he’s interested in being Bishop’s backup. Don’t bet on this scenario, though.

One thing is for sure; don’t expect Vasilevskiy to be the No. 2 next year. He needs playing time and he’s not going to get that filling Bishop’s water bottles and modeling the latest Lightning cap during games.

My bet is Janus (unless there’s something I don’t know) or Lindback as next year’s No. 2. If they don’t sign Janus, expect him to stay in Slovakia.

14-15 Prediction: Bishop, Lindback, Vasilevskiy, Gudlevskis, minor league free agent/2014 draftee.

What would you say Koekkoek’s chances are to make the NHL next year? Salo is a FA this summer I believe. That leaves an opening. (Matt via Twitter)

A couple months ago I would have said slim to none, but after seeing how they’re treating Sustr, I don’t think AHL time is a priority if the player can get ice time in the NHL.

It’s time to get excited about Slater Koekkoek. I’ll wait. Excellent. Now that we’re all on the same page, I honestly think he’s got a very good chance. All reports from credible sources in Ontario say he’s among the best – if not the best – defenseman in the OHL. His weaknesses coming into the year were fitting into a system properly, discipline, and own-zone play. By all accounts, he’s blown expectations out of the water. In my opinion, he’s the best pure skater in the Lightning organization – the type Barb Underhill dreams about when she falls asleep at night. He’s got good size and moving the puck has never been an issue with him. Yzerman will likely give him a long camp look, and there’s a good possibility with Salo off the books that he takes a 5/6 spot to start and moves up as the year goes on.

Keith Aulie is an RFA, and if he doesn’t get healthy and prove he’s worthy of a new contract, perhaps he’s not qualified in the spring. That would leave next year’s D-corps as Hedman, Carle, Gudas, Sustr (RFA), Brewer, Koekkoek, Barberio (RFA), Cote/Aulie (RFA).

Better prospect: Jonathan Drouin, Nathan MacKinnon or Connor McDavid? Why? Thanks! #BPMailbag – (Rafael via Twitter)

Sweet Serge Savard that’s a tough one. What are you looking for, overall impact or points? If overall impact, McDavid – he’s a franchise player. What he’s doing in the OHL at his age is remarkable. If you’re only looking for points, Drouin may win more Art Rosses than the other two depending on the talent surrounding him. All will be stars. I like Drouin’s offense more than MacKinnon’s, but MacKinnon’s all-around game more than Drouin’s.

What is your middle name? (Mikey C. via Twitter)

Danger.

With various Bolts getting healthy, do you see anyone being sent to SYR? (we're pretty desperate here!) (Huddy via Twitter)

Hard to say. As of this moment, Syracuse is more apt to lose a player as Brett Connolly is doing a Jonathan Drouin impression on AHL competition. Looking at how prospects are being used on the Lightning, Panik is being used the least, so is most apt to be sent down, but he could flip spots with Connolly. J. T. Brown has been solid and Cooper trusts him, but I could see him getting some more Crunch time this year if there’s no room up top.

Can you do a quick review of the D-Prospects we have playing juniors on how their years are going and their futures? (George via Twitter)

I mentioned Koekkoek earlier. The others in juniors are Dylan Blujus (North Bay, OHL) and Jake Dotchin (Barrie, OHL). Dotchin is having a career year and is a righty shot. He’s a big boy who plays rough and has emerged as more of a 2-way threat after his trade to Barrie, though his ultimate future is as a people-mover not a puck-mover. The Lightning like Blujus - also a righty - and had him down last year for some extra work. As a top-60 pick, you bank on those guys getting a contract. Blujus has not broken out offensively as many thought he would this year. His numbers are actually down. Perhaps that’s in part to recovering from an injury, or perhaps he just isn’t going to develop as expected. I think it’s better than 50/50 he gets a contract right now. If they don’t want to commit a 3-year entry-level NHL deal to him, they could let him go back in the draft and maybe become a free agent afterward. Then they can sign him to an AHL deal and hold an extended tryout of sorts. They’re doing that with Drew Olson right now. But, overall, I think they expected him to be a top-4, 2-way guy when the drafted him. He’s not looking the part right now.

Which prospect(s) either forward or defense could you see being used as part of a deadline deal? (Thomas via Twitter)

I think Yzerman loves his prospects too much to part with one, to be honest. But let’s say there’s a top-3 defenseman out there that fits into Yzerman’s longterm plan and isn’t just a rental and Yzerman wants to balance out the future between impact D’s and F’s while improving the club for the playoffs (specific enough?).

Even with the Conacher trade, the Lightning are deepest at skill winger. Drouin’s not going anywhere and I’ve handcuffed Kucherov to the Lightning statue in the TBT Forum courtyard so he’s not going anywhere, so that leaves Panik and Connolly in that player type. Panik has size that the others don’t have, so that leaves Connolly. But I don’t think Yzerman wants to trade him. By the way, the Panik TB is seeing this year is not the real Richard Panik.

Do you think any recent 7th rounders will make an impact in the org? Gusev, Salminen, Vermin. Palat spoiled us. (Matt via Twitter)

To be honest, no I don’t. Gusev to the AHL might be nice, but the fact he can’t get a foothold in the KHL worries me that the NHL will be way too much for the pint-sized puck wizard. Vermin’s numbers have plummeted this year and TB has several like him he’d have to leapfrog. Salminen is intriguing, but it’s way too early to say he’ll have an impact. If he does, it would be as a third liner, tops, so I wouldn’t call that an impact player.

Ben Bishop - is he for real? (Aron via Twitter)[/b]

Like, is he human or some kind of advanced, oversized puck-blocking robot? I do not believe him to be a robot.

I look for signs of sustainability with goalies. In short, he’s for real. His base is so solid and his approach so disciplined he can be a successful goalie for a long time. His mental approach has matured so much in that he’s no longer flailing or over-extending himself creating holes. Economy of movement for big goalies isn’t a style choice, it’s the foundation for success by eliminating variables which could cause failure. Compare it to a contact hitter with size and power vs a homerun swinger with size and power. Which is more likely to have the longest MLB career? Exactly. I get frustrated with Lindback, who plays a high-energy athletic style that gets him out of his base quickly and therefore opens more holes for shooters. He can succeed, but it will be harder for him in my opinion.

Of all the prospects, who is most likely to be a bust? (Matthew via Twitter)

I don’t like answering these because I don’t like writing players off until they’ve had every opportunity to succeed. I will say the prospect I’ve ranked lower than my fellow staff members consistently is Nikita Nesterov. I like him on the big ice of Europe, but with a condensed, physical game, it’s hard for him. He’s a smart player, but I don’t now that he’ll make the NHL without significant improvement. In the WJCs in the two years prior to this one he’s been excellent against lesser competition, but against Canada, USA, and Sweden I thought he really struggled with their size and intensity.

What the hell happened with Lindback?? When the trade was made for him it seems like we heard a lot of positive things about him. Not that he has been as Johnny Short-side, but it seems like we have been missing out on his upside. (Jester47 via BP Messageboard)

Nashville is a helluva defensive team. I didn’t watch him a whole lot with Nashville, but I agreed at the time of the trade he was the best AFFORDABLE goaltender on the market (Kings wanted a king’s ransom for Bernier) and with his size and athletic ability, he has a ton of potential. He’s not as polished as I thought he’d be. It just hasn’t come together for him. He’s running out of time, though. Younger players are on their way and his contract is ending.

Does Drouin play center or wing in the NHL? And… Which is the greater organizational need, power forward or right-handed defensemen? (RSchmitz via BP Messageboard)

The collective thought at camp was that Drouin’s eventual future is at wing next to Stamkos, center experiment or not. That could still be true, though don’t sleep on Nikita Kucherov there in the future after Marty retires. Kucherov’s playmaking skills are vastly underrated.

I think Drouin plays both. Tampa Bay has Johnson, Filppula, and Namestnikov down the middle after Stamkos, though Filppula can play wing. I think he plays all over the place. Go ahead and scheme against that.

Adam Erne isn’t huge, but he plays a power forward’s game. So does Panik when he’s playing up to his potential (see 2013 Calder Finals). I don’t think it’s as big of a need as a righty, puck-moving defenseman in the system. They bought one in Sergeev, who’s a nice depth player for the organization, but they need another and one with a high ceiling for future power play use. Stamkos needs a righty at the top of the triangle to get him a quick one-time pass without the passer having to pivot.

How in the world did Stevie Yzerman let Linus Omark get traded to the Buffalo Sabres for a conditional sixth-round draft pick? (Bolthed via BP Messageboard)[/b]

There was a time when the BP staffers were scheming to get Omark from Edmonton because his best friend and Swedish linemate, Johan Harju, was finally coming to North America for the Lightning. We had visions of a Swedish Batman and Robin, albeit without the fancy gadgets. Harju didn’t last and Omark couldn’t make a team perfect for his skillset. Tampa’s doing fine at young, skilled forward who are below 6’1”, so I’m not losing any sleep.

What do you make of Hedman's and MSL's exclusions from their respective Olympic rosters? (ChaseSpace via BP Messageboard)

First Hedman. I can’t find any logic here. Sweden has put together some great bikini teams over the years, but I have ZERO idea what they were thinking here. Not only does this not make sense this year, but by not naming Hedman or Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin to the squad this year they’re missing out on valuable Olympic experience for the two of them for 2018. I don’t get it. Biggest Olympic snub in recent memory for me.

As for Marty… My opinion probably won’t be very popular, I fear. I’m one of the few people on the planet who are both a fervent Lightning follower and a Canadian, so I think I can see both sides of this with some “fandom” behind each.

I didn’t see many – if any – outlets projecting Marty as a lock for Team Canada. Therefore, with Marty on the bubble, the collective thought coming into the announcement was there was a very real possibility he wouldn’t be named. Yet, when the news came out you could hear jaws dropping from Sarasota to Saskatoon. If you acknowledged he was on the bubble then you acknowledge there was a legitimate chance he wasn’t going to make it. That’s not the point, though. I just wanted to comment on all the shock that was communicated. I found that somewhat surprising.

I thought the 2010 snub of Marty was worse, to be honest. He made it in 2006 so at least he can retire with an Olympic appearance on his resume.

Now for the unpopular: Marty’s game has changed over the years. Yes, he works hard and yes, he is clutch, and yes, he has outstanding puck skills. I don’t buy the no-speed argument on the surface as Marty still has plenty of speed. The St. Louis of the last few years is a valuable, savvy vet who knows where to be and when to be in a certain spot to avoid contact and find passing lanes. He doesn’t need to fly to get there, and therefore appears to play the game at a slower pace.

He’s a fantastic point producing, playmaking wing. He is no longer among TB’s top-4 penalty killing forwards (fifth in SHTOI), his giveaways are up this year (on pace for 15 more than last season), and he’s not going to be in Selke consideration any time soon for his effort in is own zone.

He’s a different player - more of a perimeter player than his former self, but still a great player.

Body of work may mean something for a goaltender and his ability to face intense pressure (and is reportedly the reason Ben Bishop isn’t on Team USA), but it’s not necessary for a deep Canada team containing 10 players who won gold in 2010. The team is also filled with players who can set-up one another. I feel that Marty would have been a bonus, not a key cog for the team.

Yzerman is a winner. He’s also a cold-blooded GM. He will trade a fan favorite (Conacher) or cut a franchise player (Lecavalier) if it means he can get an advantage or eliminate an excuse. He’s also EXTREMELY thorough, and if his braintrust of GMs and Canada coach Mike Babcock didn’t want St. Louis, then, as Yzerman said, he’s not going to go against the collective opinion even if it means ruffling feathers back home. So, if Canada can have a younger player who can give Yzerman more options (ie. play in checking and PK roles if needed) they’ll take that player if it means an additional option or advantage.

The bottom line is Canada was looking at a pool of about 20 deserving forwards as good, better, or maybe a little "worse" on the surface than the 2013-2014 version of Martin St. Louis. Marty’s point total since the last Olympics is irrelevant. Canada is worried about NOW. And while 26 is a star for the Lightning, he’s one of many star Canadians, so I don’t fault a win-obsessed, emotionless GM for getting picky.

That said, I would have loved to have seen a thriving Stamkos-St. Louis duo for Canada.

That's all for this week. To submit questions, write me on Twitter (@boltprospects) or reply on our fancy message board.