Can Tampa Bay survive without an enforcer?
A lot has been made about how the Lightning will handle its enforcer duties after Andre Roy left as a free agent. Do they really need one? Can "team toughness" overcome the lack of one. We got two views in today's paper. Coach Barry Melrose said we shouldn't count out tough guy David Koci making the team out of camp. "One thing I've made very clear to my stars is they will always be protected, and that's going to happen here," he said. "As long as I'm coach here, you will never see one of our stars taken advantage of."
But hockey ops chief Brian Lawton said the concept of team toughness also is valid, and he spoke of guys such as Ryan Malone, Nick Tarnasky, Evgeny Artyukhin, Chris Gratton and even Vinny Lecavalier as more than willing and able to take care of themselves. Besides, he added, the Lightning is an "enormous team." He actually is right about that. Tampa Bay's projected top 13 forwards average 6 feet 2, 210 pounds. That's the biggest group of forwards in the league. Believe me, I went through every team and checked. And as Lawton said, "Team toughness is the greatest responsibility and bonding a team can do," he said. "We have a group of guys that I can already tell already will use this to bring themselves together. ... Tell me who Detroit's heavyweight is. Tell me who their middleweight is. They do it with more puck possession and skill. We'd like to follow that model. But we'd also like to back that up with size, and we feel we have that."
Okay, before all you Wings fans start bringing up Aaron Downey, remember he played just 4 minutes a game and was not much of a factor in the playoffs. The point Lawton was trying to make is there really isn't room on the Lightning's roster for a four-minute player, and fighting is not that much of a factor in the playoffs anyway.
What's the right answer? Can Koci play a regular shift, even though, as he said, his skating needs to improve?
Also thought Melrose's Q&A was interesting, especially the part about carving out a section in front of the net where much more physical play is allowed. "The hacking and whacking and cross-checking, so the guy has to have some grit to get in there, where you can't go in there with no pads the way you basically can do it now. That should be an area of highly fought over ice," he said.
And I loved this quote: "I never want to get to a point in my life when cowards can play hockey."
If you haven't read the Q&A, I suggest it. It is well worth your time, and then tell me what you think of Melrose's idea to make it tougher to stand in front of the net. I think the whole enforcer issue for Tampa Bay and Melrose's comments are great for debate. Would love to hear your thoughts.