Competition on defense (maybe) and forward (likely) will define Tampa Bay Lightning training camp; and other tidbits
Looking over his team on two sheets of ice on Tuesday -- the rookie camp on one at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon and the vets skating in pre-camp workouts to on the other -- Lightning GM Brian Lawton could say one thing about training camp that begins Sept. 12, there will be competition.
In fact, he said it already has started as far as the rookies are concerned.
"This is live fire, have at it," Lawton said he told his players.
But how much competition will there be, really? Lawton said there are two spots open on defense for the Lightning, but given the roster, it seems it's going to be very tough to crack the top eight, and Lawton has indicated he likely will keep eight defensemen on the roster. He also said up to five or six players will vie for the final spot on the top two lines already manned by Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Ryan Malone and Alex Tanguay. That seems more likely to be the case, so let's take a look at that first.
Who is most likely in the mix at forward? First, figure Stephane Veilleux as one of the front-runners for that sixth spot. Assuming Lecavalier and Tanguay start camp together, Veilleux seems the perfect finishing tough at right wing with good speed, as a battler along the wall and as defensively responsible. But also to be considered will be Drew Miller, Martins Karsums, Steve Downie and even Dana Tyrell. Brandon Bochenski also has to be thrown in, not because the Lightning likes him so much, but because he is on a one-way contract.
As for the blue line, Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman, Matt Walker, Kurtis Foster, Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros are clearly set. That's six. The team wouldn't have given Matt Smaby a two-year, one-way deal if it didn't expect he would make the team, would it? So that's seven. And you have to believe Matt Lashoff would be a candidate to be plucked off waivers if he wasn't with the Lightning. But let's for the sake of argument, say Lashoff, who has a two-way deal, isn't a lock. That still leaves only the No. 8 spot up for grabs in a battle with Lashoff, Lukas Krajicek, David Hale and Mike Lundin.
So, what's up with Lundin? Even if he doesn't have a contract, Lundin will be in camp as the Lightning has extended him an invitation. Lawton added he has given Lundin a "multitude of offers" to consider. None, however, include a one-way contract, which Lundin wants.
Still, Lawton said having Lundin in camp will be good for Lundin to assess where he stands in the pecking order. Lundin, through agent Ben Hankinson, has said his worry is he has been buried after the improvements Tampa Bay made to the blue line.
"People want to find their worth," Lawton said. "They want to find out what's happening. In Mike's case, he's trying to evaluate his opportunity with our club."
As for a possible trade, Lawton said the player has asked about it, but, "We're always exploring all our options, but I like Mike Lundin. I'm not looking just to get rid of him. We like him. We think he's a good player. We think he'd add a lot of depth to what we have and compete."
Other stuff from the first day of rookie camp:
* Lawton said he expects to make two trades before the team sets its roster. Expect draft choices and prospects to be the priority as the team tries to manage its payroll.
* Lawton said if goalie Jaroslav Janus can prove his worth by "challenging the other two goalies we have (Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokasrski)," Tampa Bay will sign Janus to a pro contract. Otherwise it's back to OHL Erie.
* It looks like AHL Norfolk starts the season with Helenius and Tokasrski in the net.
* Lawton said he wants tohave an assistant coach in place at Norfolk by Tuesday. He said he has three candidates but mentioned just one, former NHL defenseman Jim Johnson. He said Leigh Mendelson has agreed to terms with the Admirals as a combo strength and video coach.
* Vinny Prospal, skating with his former team before leaving Wednesday night for New York, said playing for John Tortorella won't be strange, despite the incident two seasons ago when Prospal called out Torts during a postgame Sun Sports interview shown on the St. Pete Times Forum scoreboard.
"The thing is, the relationship I have with Torts is way beyond coach and player," Prospal said. "I saw him even last year when he didn't have a job and was on TV and we were in contact. we stopped by his place two or three times, and we talked about other stuff than just hockey. The way people see it is because of that incident, what I said after the game against Montreal. people don't realize it has nothing to do with the relationship between us. That was always about hockey. For some reason, Torts has some kind of power or vision of how to make me play better, and it works."
More Prospal on Torts: "He's got a game face on nine months out of the year. There's nothing else for him but the game of hockey. People don't realize when hockey is over, he's a totally different person."
As for his home in Tampa, Prospal said he wants to keep it.
"This is our second home," he said. "Our third child was finally born in Tampa, so its something, just basically, like a cherry on the cake with the way we feel about Tampa. But that has nothing to do with hockey anymore. One day, I won't play hockey and we'll still have the house, I hope, and we'll come here because we like the area."
* Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros (left shoulder surgeries) are skating and cleared for contact. Ranger did not want to talk much about the injury, but Meszaros said, "It's still a little bit sore. I just have to get through the pain and get used to it." He said he also is concerned about the first hit.
* Goalie Mike Smith said he is 100 percent over his post-concussion syndrome. But he did have a bone to pick with a story last month that he was hit in the mask by a wrist shot from a 14-year-old during one of his first skates in Toronto. Smith didn't deny he was hit, but said the player "was in the (OHL), so he was 19."
"I felt bad the 14-year-olds were picking on me," Smith said when he heard of the story that originally was relayed by Lawton.