In, Out, and Up: First Edition
The last couple of years I've from time to time dabbled in trying to predict the future in terms of contract movement inside the organization in this post I like to call In, Out, and Up. This year is probably the most difficult of all to get a read on because of several non-contract members of the minor league affiliate in Norfolk making such strong pushes for contracts and uncertainty at the forward position at the top level in Tampa. Still, here are my best guesses on who gets into the organization, who gets kicked out, and who makes it up to Tampa Bay.
G Riku Helenius, Seattle (WHL)- Riku already has a contract in hand, so I'm fairly sure I have this one correct.
D Kevin Quick, Norfolk (AHL)- Quick will get his NHL deal this summer, albeit at a drastically reduced price compared to what he could've demanded had he kept his nose clean at Michigan.
C Mitch Fadden, Lethbridge (WHL)- Mitch finished 6th in the WHL in scoring. He's still way under the radar, but he's the type who could hit it big quickly in Norfolk next season.
LW/C Johan Harju, Lulea (SWE)- "Big Joe" finished 10th in the Elitserien in goals this season. Expect the Lightning to put the full court press on to sign him.
C Paul Szczechura, Norfolk (AHL)- Currently finishing up an AHL level contract he originally signed with the Iowa Stars. He had 21 points in 19 games with the Admirals before going on the shelf with an injury.
LW Adam Henrich, Norfolk (AHL)- The big power forward finally dislodged his head from his netherregions, and probably earned a one-year deal for doing so. We'll have to reactivate his profile.
LW/D David Koci, Norfolk (AHL)- Koci is a folk hero in Norfolk, and the Lightning don't have any heavies in their organization outside of Roy. Koci is a UFA this summer. It seems an obvious fit.
D Dane Crowley, Everett (WHL)- Crowley's a good, mobile two-way defenseman with a good amount of character. The Lightning's glut of d-men in the organization and initial indications that his agent may want to much money possibly will hold him out, as well as Quick's situation.
ON THE BUBBLE:
G Vasily Koshechkin, Kazan (RUS)- The Lightning will again try to sign the mammoth Russian goaltender. I'll believe it when I see it.
LW Luca Cunti, Chicago (USHL)- Word on the street is he can't go back to college and needs a home. Juniors seems like a better option than pro, at least for next season.
LW Rob Klinkhammer, Norfolk (AHL)- If there were any justice in the world, "Klink" would get an NHL contract. The numbers game may hold him out.
LW/D Brandon Elliott, N/A- The Lightning have already released Elliott from his contract.
G Ryan Munce, Mississippi (ECHL)- Someone's got to go to make room for Helenius.
RW Zbynek Hrdel, Mississippi (ECHL)- Just a mediocre player who originally got his contract partly from riding Sid Crosby's coattails in Rimouski.
D David Schneider, Norfolk (AHL)- He was supposed to anchor the Admirals power play this season but has been poor in the role.
D Justin Fletcher, Rockford (AHL)- Failed to follow up on a good ATO stint a year ago in Springfield and has already been loaned out to Chicago's farm team.
RW Marek Kvapil, Norfolk (AHL)- Lord knows the talent is there, but he's never followed up on a decent rookie season. May have opportunities in Europe.
LW/D Jay Rosehill, Norfolk (AHL)- If Koci is signed, Rosehill doesn't have a role anymore in Norfolk and may be a casualty of the 50-man roster. Could get a minor league contract to stick around. If he is out, it will be a hockey decision and not on the basis of his late night mistake at the shoe modeling establishment.
LW/D Mike Egener, Norfolk (AHL)- The Lightning really thought they had something moving Egener to forward but injuries cost him most of the season. He's only been healthy one year since signing with the organization. They love his character and skating, but was it one injury too many this year?
RW Stanislav Lascek, Mississippi (ECHL)- Lascek has another year on his NHL deal, but I would not be surprised if the Lightning decided to release Lascek as they did Elliott if that's what it takes to keep Klinkhammer, Kvapil, or Egener around on the 50-man roster.
G Karri Ramo, Tampa Bay (NHL)- Duh.
D Matt Smaby, Tampa Bay (NHL)- If the Lightning carry seven d-men next year and trade Lukowich or Kuba for budget reasons, Smaby could be in.
LW/C Johan Harju, Lulea (SWE)- If they can sign him, I'm betting he jumps past the AHL straight to the show.
D Vladimir Mihalik, Norfolk (AHL)- He's not as far away as people think, although I think he'll get one more year of seasoning.
C Blair Jones, Norfolk (AHL)- He's earned a reputation of not always playing with the same level of intensity, and it's killing his opportunities.
LW Adam Henrich, Norfolk (AHL)- I can't believe I just typed that either.
LW Justin Keller, Norfolk (AHL)- Not an NHL body, but smart, smart, smart.
LW Radek Smolenak, Norfolk (AHL)- He's a real wild card because he's the purest sniper prospect the team has under contract.
LW/D David Koci, Norfolk (AHL)- If, for some reason, Roy doesn't re-sign in Tampa or gets injured, Koci might be the heir to the mantle of human victory cigar.
IN: Helenius, Quick, Fadden, Harju, Szczechura, Henrich, Koci, Crowley
Helenius will start the year in the ECHL where the 500 shots he'll face a night will help compensate for the season he lost to shoulder surgery. Mitch Fadden will score 20 goals and 50-60 points as an AHL rookie. David Koci will be elected mayor of Norfolk with 87% of the vote in the general election. Vasily Koshechkin will find some way to go back home to Togliatti of the Superleague. Luca Cunti will become a matinee idol in the QMJHL. Rob Klinkhammer will sign another AHL contract with Norfolk and promptly pot 20 goals.
OUT: Elliott, Munce, Hrdel, Schneider, Fletcher, Rosehill, Lascek
Mike Egener and Marek Kvapil will survive the career guillotine by a whisker. Jay Rosehill will be offered a minor league deal to stick around the organization. An unhappy Lightning organization and an equally unhappy Stan Lascek will mutually decide to part ways.
UP: Ramo, Smaby, Harju
Karri Ramo will reveal his true name is Kal-El by the end of next season and that yellow sun rays give him superpowers above those of ordinary mortal men. Your top-seven defensemen in Tampa next year will be Dan Boyle, Paul Ranger, Filip Kuba, Shane O'Brien, Alexandre Picard, Mike Lundin, and Matt Smaby after Brad Lukowich is traded on draft day for a 4th round pick. Johan Harju will score 15 goals as a rookie and THN and HockeysFuture will both still disavow any knowledge of his existence.
One other bold prediction: Evgeny Artyukhin will fire his crooked agent and re-sign with the Lightning and after a brief stint to start the year in Norfolk, will return to Tampa to beat opposing forwards with their own helmets and eat food at a daily volume and weight that is rivaled only by that of panda bears.
So it is written. So it shall come to pass.