Commentary: Hockey's Future = Hacks
By now you might've seen the laughable hack job committed by Hockey's Future on the Tampa Bay Lightning's prospect system in their Fall Organizational Rankings. As if trying to outdo their previous display of shear ignorance, HF has moved the Lightning down from 29th to 30th despite the fact the Lightning organization's prospects, which they largely ignore, are performing better this year than at any time since the goldmine year of 1999-2000 when Brad Richards, Dimitry Afanasenkov and Sheldon Keefe were in their last year of junior.
What I find extremely laughable is that an organization that hasn't published an article on the Tampa Bay Lightning's prospects in over two months, and which still hasn't updated their top-20 prospects for the Lightning because they lack anyone competent enough to do the job, actually has the chutzpah to claim any legitimacy in their critique. This is a group which does not even have a writer for the Lightning at the moment. How can they be so irresponsible as to publish organizational rankings like this when they have so clearly ignored the Tampa Bay Lightning for the past year?
And that's to say nothing of the obvious flaws in their critique. The dismissive way in which Hockey's Future glosses over the Lightning's depth along the blueline is truly incredible. This is an organization which boasts Andy Rogers, Paul Ranger, Mike Egener, Vladamir Mihalik, Doug O'Brien and Matt Smaby, amongst others. HF's incisive analaysis? To make fun of how tall these prospects are. Very mature.
They go on to assail the Lightning's forward prospects as merely a bunch of checkers and grinders. HF looks down its nose at character, which isn't terribly surprising, is it? Last I checked though, organizations with established cores like the Tampa Bay Lightning have need a ready stock of checking liners and character players to compliment that core. That's doubly true in the new salary cap environment where cost effective young character players like Nick Tarnasky, Evgeny Artyukhin and Ryan Craig on affordable contracts will be a must in order to meet constraints imposed by the costs to keep stars like Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards.
But even then, to accept HF's misinformed characterization of the Lightning's system as merely a collection of stone handed lumberjacks is to accept a lie. As of this moment Justin Keller and Blair Jones are tied for seventh in the WHL in scoring, Stanislav Lascek is tied for 3rd in the QMJHL in scoring and Radek Smolenak is in the top-25 in scoring in the OHL tied for 24th in that league. In Russia, Albert Vishnyakov is tied for 5th in the Russian Superleague, arguably the second best hockey league in the world, in goals. Are these players even mentioned in Hockey's Future's analysis though? Of course not. They mention a pair of former second round picks in Polushin and Henrich instead ignoring Keller (7th round), Jones (4th round), Lascek (5th round), Smolenak (3rd round) and Vishnyakov (9th round).
And therein lies the real origin of these "rankings" by HF. The truth is that Hockey's Future merely talleys up 1st and 2nd round draft picks, weighs whose have more hype behind them and write their list accordingly. Having 2 or 3 marquee names who were high draft picks trumps the painstaking attention to detail and cultivation of depth the Lightning have managed to accomplish step by step over the past four drafts not just on the first day of the draft but in the low rounds as well. Depth, however, is meaningless to HF.
They as much as say so in their dismissive treatment of the Lightning's goaltending prospects. HF sneers at the quantity of goaltending prospects in the system and because none are painfully overhyped 1st round picks immediately leaps to the conclusion that the quality of prospects is automatically suspect. They don't mention Karri Ramo (6th round pick) leads the Finnish SM-liiga in GAA and sv% or that at 19 years old he had earned the starting job for HPK. They also don't mention that Vasily Koshechkin (8th round pick) is first in the Russian Superleague in GAA and sv% and is 2nd in that league in shutouts. That's on the heals of a season where Gerald Coleman (7th round pick) led the OHL in every major statistical category and Jonathan Boutin (3rd round pick) also proved his potential by dominating the QMJHL early in the 2004-2005 season.
They do, however, mention in the two teams slotted ahead of Tampa Bay one goaltender who had a sub-.900 save percentage in junior (Marek Schwarz) and and another who Karri Ramo beat in every major statistical category in junior-A last season and whom Ramo currently holds a nearly 2 goals better GAA and 58 point better save percentage in the SM-liiga (Tuukka Rask). But, of course, Karri Ramo is considered dog meat compared to these other two prospects because they were 1st round draft picks. Even if by almost every objective empirical measure players like Ramo and Koshechkin are outperforming players like Rask and Schwarz, Ramo and Koshechkin will never receive a drop of ink from HF.
In conclusion, HF is not a credible source for the coverage of Tampa Bay Lightning prospects anymore. I could tell everything I really know about the inside baseball that goes on at HF from our experience from working there for a half decade and how HF's rankings are not only tarnished by incompetence but also personal animosities and pettiness. And maybe one day I will blog the whole story. But for now it suffices to point out how ridiculously off base HF is and their obvious ignorance of the Lightning system. Lightning fans deserve better, and that's why we started Bolt Prospects. So don't worry about these rankings. After all, you know what happened the last time a media outlet picked the Lightning 30th. A couple of years from now HF will be looked back upon with the same level of ridicule SI was after the Lightning won their first Stanley Cup. That I promise you.