Now that we're in a lull in the hockey world (and talking about logos to pass the time), I thought it would be a good time to roll out a couple of features we've been kicking around here at Bolt Prospects for a while. Without much fanfare, the Lightning will reach a bit of a milestone this coming season as it will be their 15th in the NHL. The franchise is coming of age. 5 playoff appearances, 2 division titles and a Stanley Cup later the Lightning are no longer the league's fledgling Southern experiment. The Lightning, the first of their expansion cousins to hoist Lord Stanley's chalice, have proven hockey can work south of the Mason Dixon and have etched their place in the sport's history with blood, sweat and unyielding effort.
To celebrate this milestone, Bolt Prospects would like to take you on a trip down memory road to a fairgrounds halfway to Brandon, a baseball stadium in St. Petersburg, and a Forum that used to be a Palace. In these places, which now only exist in our recollection, we saw dozens of world class athletes put on the Lightning sweater and challenge the elite of the NHL. This, we think, is the best of the best: Bolt Prospects' All-Time Lightning Team:
Bolt Prospects 2006-2007 Final Rankings
2006-2007 was a difficult season for the prospects of the Tampa Bay Lightning. After two years of modest improvement with their full affiliation in Springfield of the AHL and a large crop of talented junior scorers coming into the organization, expectations were that this was the season the Falcons and the Lightning organization would finally turn the corner. Expectations were not met, and the Falcons took a large step backward with a miserable second half of the season that led to the dissolving of the affiliation. The Lightning also saw ties severed with their ECHL affiliate in Johnstown after two years of control over hockey operations only led to a pair of 5th place divisional finishes.
The Bolt Prospects 2006-2007 Final Rankings reflect the painful lessons of a campaign which, for the Lightning's minor league system, was one of the worst in recent memory. As a consequence of overall poor play indicating a lack of depth, the Bolt Prospects staff voted unanimously to trim the Top-25 rankings to 20 for the first time in the history of the site. Make no mistake, the decision is an indictment of what we saw from the Lightning's prospects in 2006-2007. There are passengers in this organization, and we suspect several of them will begin to be culled from the organizational roster during the off season. The rankings are also an indictment of the promising class of young rookie forwards who failed so spectacularly to make an impact in their pro debuts. On the bright side though, they also show the strength the organization has developed at the goaltending and defenseman positions. Of our top ten prospects, only one (Blair Jones) is a forward, while four are goaltenders and five are blueliners.
So, without further adieu, here are the Bolt Prospects 2006-2007 Final Rankings. They are the last of a year we'd rather forget and a starting point on the way to 2007-2008, a new season and a new affiliation with Norfolk of the AHL that we hope will bring redemption for some of the organization's young talent.
After starting the season with an undefeated run through their non-conference schedule and being ranked as high as #1 in the country, the Maine Black Bears (21-12-2), now ranked #14, struggled through the Hockey East schedule. The Black Bears finished fifth in the conference and failed to get home-ice advantage in the first round of the conference tournament, which opens this weekend with Maine against #15 Massachusetts.
Despite their rough road this season, defenseman Mike Lundin has continued his consistent play on the blue-line for the Black Bears, becoming a leader in the locker room. This has him optimistic about his future in hockey and with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Newly acquired defenseman Shane O'Brien was featured in his hometown paper, the Northumberland News (Port Hope, Ontario), today. O'Brien talks about the phone calls he received from Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermeyer upon being traded, as well as the fact the Lightning pursued him for a month before Jay Feaster was willing to give up a first rounder. He also reflects on his first NHL goal, off a pass from Teemu Selanne vs. Dominik Hasek of Detroit.
Bolt Prospects would like to announce the release of its 2006-2007 Midterm Rankings for prospects in the Lightning organization. There have been multiple changes since the Preliminary Rankings we released in October, most notably a new top prospect in the organization, AHL All-Star Karri Ramo, and the graduation of top ten prospect Nick Tarnasky who played his 41st NHL game of the season just this past weekend. Multiple prospects also managed to crack the rankings for the first time by virtue of their play so far this season.
Just a quick reminder on how we differentiate between "alumni", "prospect" and "overage prospect". Any player who plays 41 games or more at the NHL level in any single season or 82 or more total career NHL games will be considered graduated and will be moved to the "Bolt Prospects Alumni" section of the prospects page. With Tarnasky's full-time promotion to the NHL and prior graduations by Doug Janik and Eric Perrin, the alumni list has now grown to six players over the span of the past year and a half since we first put up the prospects page and profile content. Any player under the age of 24 on opening night of the 2006-2007 season who hasn't met the criteria for graduation is considered a "prospect" and is elligible for our rankings. Any player 24 or older who has not yet met the criteria for graduation is considered an "overage prospect" and is not elligible to make the list. In addition, with Johan Holmqvist on track for graduation this season, we've adopted new, but similar, rules for goaltenders whereby graduation will occur upon the 30th decision of any single NHL season or the 41st career NHL decision. For anyone wondering, Holmqvist has already earned 23 decisions this season (with a 14-9-0 record).
With all the legal disclaimers out of the way, here are the 2006-2007 Bolt Prospects Midterm Rankings which can also be found on our prospects page.