The BP Mailbag is back after a little hiatus and there are lots of questions to get to.
Let’s get started:
@BoltProspects If you had the choice between Dan Boyle of Matt Niskanen to bring in during the offseason, who would you pick and why?
@BoltProspects is it just me or is Dan Boyle destined to go to Tampa? A perfect replacement for Salo as a RD playing with Hedman. But it's a short term solution.. You need a longterm partner for Victor. Do you think Sustr has the potential? ?#BPMailbag
Both Niskanen and Boyle are righty puckmovers, which the Lightning desperately need as part of their core. Gudas is a righty, but is a peoplemover more than a puckmover. As for Sustr, he has potential to be a fine 2-way defenseman. We have had some healthy discussions in the BP virtual staffroom about his offensive potential – over 30 points or under? I think under, Pete thinks over. I don’t see him as having the high end offensive IQ that other players like Hedman and Boyle have, and I think he settles in as a 4/5 in the future with limited power play time. Regardless, Sustr has a ways to go before he hits NHL maturity (250-300 games) and may or may not be an offensive catalyst as a player.
Kostka is serviceable, but there’s not a lot of upside there due to age and his skating. With Sami Salo ’s contract ending, there’s a spot in the top-4 waiting for someone.
I think Yzerman fills that spot before free agency starts now that he’s armed with extra non-personnel assets thanks to the Rangers. He also has some tradable pieces in Connolly and Purcell that could help.
But if he does make it to UFA season without plugging that hole, Niskanen and Boyle are ones to investigate. You could really take out the names and say, does Yzerman want someone for the next five years, or next two years?
Niskanen is peaking in a contract year and at 27 could be a great piece to add to the Lightning’s core. He’ll command a contract similar to Matt Carle , which is 5/5.5 average. I think someone comes along and offers six million per year, which will win the sweepstakes. With Callahan’s contract being decided before UFA starts, TB may not have the room (especially with Palat, Johnson, etc as RFAs).
Boyle may not make it to UFA as San Jose has talked about wanting to lock him up before July. However, I don’t know the latest out of Sharkville, so if he becomes a UFA, he might be a nice addition for a couple years. He still has family ties in Tampa (no Michael J. Fox, though, for you 80’s sitcom fans).
I’d rather go trade before FA, but then take Boyle for less years if I have to.
@BoltProspects Given the Bolts’ tendency to sign “smurfs,” and several blog comments about the need for more physical players, I’d like your opinions on the direction things are headed with both SYR and TBL.
Yzerman’s made it clear he values skill, hockey IQ, and “compete level” more than size. And I don’t know if it’s an organizational direction as much as it is a professional hockey direction. There are some teams like the Bruins who still value physicality above a lot of other traits, but the key is balance. In the trap days, having big players, especially on defense, was a staple. Forward lines were very balanced between skill and brawn. You’ve heard this all before. My point is, it’s not like the Lightning are going to be so far on the small side that they can’t compete in either the NHL or AHL. There HAS to be a balance, and you see players that like to get their nose dirty being acquired, but they don’t have to be over a certain size and weight. On defense, Yzerman is partial to size, but not necessarily size with physical play. He likes the long reach they provide. I’m not worried about it, but if you prefer physical hockey over speed hockey, then I can see how disappointment could set in. Fast and big AND skilled are hard to find. Take skill with grit over size and that creates your balance.
@BoltProspects Why can Adam Erne  play for #SyrCrunch now but not next season?
The rule in place to protect the Canadian Hockey League as a marketable product is any player drafted out of the CHL has to be 20 years old by the beginning of a season to be AHL eligible – UNLESS that player’s team has completed its season. So, while Erne cannot play for Syracuse next year if he doesn’t make the Lightning (forward depth at this moment says there’s no room), he can’t play in Syracuse and must return to Quebec City. Because the Remparts were eliminated from the playoffs earlier this month, there’s no CHL team for Erne to play for so he can join the Crunch under a tryout agreement. It’s age and opportunity.
matz2589 (via BP Messageboard):
Any chance we bring back Stammer’s buddy Steve Downie ? UFA at end of year, we could use the grit on 3rd or 4th line.
I think Lightning fans got their first glimpse of TB’s next Downie-type player last night in Cedric Paquette . I like Downie. A lot. I just don’t think he’s coming back, though, and he really isn’t the same player as he was when he left (by the way, thanks again, Yzerman/Downie for helping bring Vasilevskiy). Paquette is cheaper, younger, and doesn’t really have any baggage attached – aside from that incident in juniors when he took a bad penalty and had the A stripped off his jersey. As mentioned earlier, I think grit comes if skill is attached and character is high. Callahan can also fit into this category. Keep an eye on Dalton Smith  in Syracuse, too.
Barlow01 (via BPMB):
[Corey] Pronman, who's thoughts on prospects I generally respect, had good words for Nesterov [recently]. I'll admit I've not seen a lot of Syracuse games this year but what I have seen and what I've read tweeted by the guys on this site had not prepared me to hear anything so positive about his play this year. Can you please give your thoughts on his performance and whether his trajectory is still a positive one?
First, Corey Pronman is a writer for ESPN and Hockey Prospectus and does a great job trying to cover hundreds of players all over the earth. We find it extremely difficult to get good reads on the ones who have their rights owned by the Lightning, so he’s got a big task for his publications. He is certainly entitled to his opinions, and I have rarely disagreed with him.
This is one circumstance where I do. I’ve watched about 75% of Syracuse’s games this year (online – would rather watch live, obviously) and I think there’s a time when it’s okay to erase what you had/have previously written about a prospect. The thing to remember about Nesterov is he’s just 21, and this is his first year in North America. At camp he spoke zero English aside from what he could speak through Artem Sergeev .
The book on him coming into this year was he was a good skater, smart, and could move the puck effectively, but not at a high level. He really struggled at World Juniors, I thought, against bigger teams like Sweden, USA, Finland, and Canada – especially Sweden and Canada.
He’s been pushed around a lot in the AHL along the walls and in front of the net – that was expected, and I thought that’d be his biggest hurdle to get to the NHL. What I didn’t expect was the low hockey IQ he’s exhibited this year. Can that be corrected? Yes, but how much and how quickly? Comfort and confidence will play a big part in that, but I am suspect he can correct everything by the time his contract is up two seasons from now. I think he’ll quickly get passed on the depth chart. I hope he proves me wrong, and Pronman right.
Werewolf (via BPMB):
With the junior rank playoffs ending for a lot of our prospects (Erne/Dotchin) maybe others by the time the mailbag is published - what are you hearing in terms of them coming over and playing for the Crunch for the next 3 weeks?
A lot has changed since the question was asked (again, sorry for the hiatus). Obviously Erne, Ikonen, and Vermin are in Syracuse as expected. Dotchin and Blujus are battling each other in the OHL right now, and that series could be over on Sunday if Blujus’ North Bay club moves on. If that’s the case, Dotchin could join Syracuse. I thought Matt Peca COULD be an option, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as no contract was announced. Peca can’t play pro now and return to Quinnipiac University next year as a senior.
I do expect contracts eventually for Blujus, Dotchin, and Vasilevskiy. Depending on the goaltending situation, Adam Wilcox  could be in play after this weekend – but that’s a big if; he’s just a sophomore, but a darn good one.
Derek28 (via BPMB):
Jake Dotchin  has had a great, somewhat unexpected season this year. What is his future projection if he makes it to the NHL?
Dotchin has done very well this year now that he has had the opportunity to play on the power play and more minutes in all situations. I think he’s a poor man’s Cory Sarich (who put up numbers in junior his final year), so there’s some room there to make it in the NHL as a stay-at-home third pair guy.
Barlow (via BPMB):
We have 3 very highly considered young developing goalies (Vasya, Gudlevskis, and Wilcox). There is a chance that the stock of the latter 2 may never be higher (KG off the olympics and a good second half in AHL; Wilcox - Likely winner of Richter and Hobey Baker finalist). Considering that even our NHL level guys are still young and under our control (rfa) should SY use one of these guys to help bring in further assets in weaker areas. Basically should we sell one of them high?
I think that’s a fair question. Ben Bishop  is young, but will be an unrestricted free agent after next season. He’ll be an expensive re-sign, and I’m anxious to see if his previous wrist injury or current injury will require offseason surgery. If it does, that could affect how soon he’s up to speed next year. Lindback is an RFA, but do they want him back? Do they have to have him back to keep Gudlevskis and Vasilevskiy (Vasya) playing games? I think they have to keep playing (assuming Bishop starts next season on time), so they go to Syracuse. Wilcox will get another season’s worth of games next year as a junior at Minnesota. I think he should stay.
If Bishop isn’t ready to go next year and Lindback isn’t brought back, that will set up an interesting fall for Franz Jean and Tampa Bay.
I think Yzerman is rightfully scared of having a bare cupboard there, so he lets everything play out. If a goalie is moved, I think it’s around the trade deadline next year and not this summer.
Werewolf (via BPMB):
With the following players ending their contracts at the end of the season and taking into consideration the new signings and the expected signings of Vasi/Blujus/Dotchin/etc - which of the current Crunch players will return and which will stay for another season with the Crunch? Evan Rankin , Angelidis, DiSalvatore, Labrie, Drew Olson , Desjardins, Charles Landry , Phillipe Paradis, Dmitry Korobov .
Rankin – 50/50 on him returning. I like him, but vet situation is unknown.
Angelidis – I think they offer him the choice to come back.
DiSalvatore – Europe didn’t work out and he’s JP Cote on offense, in my opinion. Re-sign him, please.
Labrie – I think they offer him the choice to come back.
Olson – He’s on an AHL contract. They may retain him on another one as AHL/ECHL depth, but not an NHL deal.
Desjardins – Only retained if one of Gudlevskis/Vasya has to play in Tampa Bay and Wilcox remains in school.
Landry – I think he’s gone.
Paradis – I think he’s gone, but the door is cracked.
Korobov – I think he’ll want to go back to the KHL and the Lightning won’t stop him.