A Ramothodist Preacher's Sunday Sermon
Lightning fans who know me know that when it comes to this team's prospects I've been a big booster of the concept of Karri Ramo making it to the NHL sooner rather than later. However, for Ramo to make the team out of camp would be an improbable event because the business side of the game all but precludes it. The Lightning have invested roughly $4 million dollars in the tandem of Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis heading into the 2007-2008 season, and the team learned this summer that Denis is virtually untradable at this point in time after such a poor campaign last season. I won't even attempt to argue for Ramo's promotion to the bigs from a business standpoint, because it doesn't make sense.
But from a hockey standpoint it makes all the sense in the world, and it makes sense on two levels...
One, other than experience, there is no other area of Ramo's game that I feel is not as good or better than Holmqvist's and Denis'. His athleticism is easily the rival of Holmqvist, his positioning and technical proficiency are already the match of Denis, and his ability to handle the puck is already better than Holmqvist's and Denis'. More than that, after having watched Ramo several times in starts for Springfield last season, I can say without hesitation Ramo's focus and ability to follow pucks in traffic is already better than Holmqvist's and Denis'. In fact, in that area, I believe Ramo's only equal in the Lightning's franchise history is Nikolai Khabibulin. Falcons fans can vouch for Ramo's uncanny ability to follow pucks through traffic, adjust to deflections, and manage his rebounds just like Khabi used to do.
That relates to something else that has been a common thread running through the local media reports about Ramo this week. Ramo's confidence and coolness under pressure have been all that the Trib and Times can seem to talk about. For a 21 year old netminder Ramo does absolutely have a preternatural amount of poise and maturity, and what people in Brandon are seeing in this week is only a tenth of what I saw last season when Ramo was under seige on a nightly basis behind a Falcons team that looked like it couldn't play its way out of a wet paper sack on many nights. Ramo doesn't crack, doesn't get down on himself, and doesn't give up the fight and he and Jonathan Boutin were arguably the only reason Springfield stayed around a .500 record into early January last year.
Those are the short term reasons to promote Ramo: put simply, he's already as good or better than Denis and Holmqvist.
The second level on which promoting Ramo makes sense is on a longer term rationale. To start, we should agree on some facts in evidence. First, to win a Stanley Cup you need a goaltender who is in the top 10-15 netminders in the league. Usually you need one that is even better, but there are some examples like Chris Osgood in the not so distant past that prove if you just have a starter in the top half of the league you've got a chance to win it all. Second, I believe the facts in evidence already show that Holmqvist and Denis probably aren't going to be in the top 10-15 goaltenders in the league this season. Third, lets also accept the fact that it's darned near impossible for the Lightning to acquire one of the top 10-15 goaltenders in the league via a trade. The Lightning don't have the assetts (young players or draft picks) in order to acquire a top flight netminder and even if they did teams don't give players like that away. Fourth, lets also accept that the Lightning have a window of opportunity to win another cup that is fleeting.
So, in the end, there's only one real choice the Lightning have. They must cultivate a netminder from within and they must do it quickly. That means come playoff time, the only legitimate shot the Lightning may have to win a cup might be if Karri Ramo becomes the player we think he can be. Is it preposterous to think that a 21 year old netminder could blossom by playoff time into the kind of goalie who can take a team on a deep playoff run? Perhaps. Then again, two years ago 22 year old Cam Ward won a Stanley Cup for the Carolina Hurricanes and the formula by which the Canes developed their prized goaltending prospect could easily be followed by the Lightning.
First, let me point out that although Ramo's birthday falls about 4 months after Ward's, which means he is not chronologically quite the same age that Ward was in 2005-2006, in terms of the number of seasons of experience Ramo has in junior and the AHL level he is exactly the same hockey age that Ward was at the start of the 2005 campaign. Moreover, Ramo's one and a half years of experience in the Finnish SM-liiga including winning a championship with HPK in 2005-2006 is arguably better from an experience standpoint than Ward's years at Red Deer in the WHL because Ramo was playing against grown men in one of the top leagues in Europe.
Upon leaving junior Ward played one full season for the Canes' AHL affiliate Lowell, just as Ramo played one full season for the Springfield Falcons last year. The following season Carolina promoted Ward to Martin Gerber's backup goaltender appearing in 28 games during the regular season. Gerber, an overage netminder who cut his teeth playing in Europe (sound familiar, Johan Holmqvist?) carried the load during the regular season while Ward methodically gained experience and confidence. By the time the playoffs rolled around Carolina had a solid tandem of netminders and when Gerber, who was nursing some late season injuries, stumbled early in the playoffs Ward stepped in. The rest, as we know, is history.
So I ask what is precluding the Tampa Bay Lightning from following the same blueprint with Karri Ramo?
Something to think about as the rest of this preseason unfolds.