Do these guys actually get it?
For me, the most important thing that came out of the introduction Monday of Oren Koules and Len Barrie as the Lightning's new primary owners was their seeming commitment to the free agent period. I know, it's easy to talk about stuff and then later not do anything. But there would be no sense for new owners trying to make an impression and then not to follow though, or at least try to follow through. Wouldn't be good for business, would it?
That's why the talk about free agency was so intriguing, and, to tell the truth, a bit energizing, which, I guess, was the point. More than the stuff about Barry Melrose (we knew that was happening), more than the stuff about Vinny Prospal (we knew that was happening, and, really, he's happy he's back? Well, duh.), more than the speculation about front office reorganization or talk about how OK Hockey will develop the land it is getting with the purchase of the team. All that stuff will take care of itself. In free agency, though, it is OK Hockey that has to take care of business.
Here was the defining quote of the day from Koules:
"I think we'll surprise people. Of the top five or six free agents, there's only one we won't be going after, and that's because he's a puck-rushing defenseman, and we think we have the best at that. So, outside of that, we're going to be staggeringly active. We will not let Steve Stamkos out there by himself."
When was the last time you heard talk like that from any Lightning owner? How about never.
So who is out there that makes sense?
The home run would be Marian Hossa, whose 29 goals and 66 points last season makes him, in his mind, worth about $7.5-million. (Imagine then what Lecavalier is going to get when his long-term deal is announced?) Hossa is not a guy who can carry a team. He is a complementary player, which actually would be perfect for the Lightning.
But more reasonable might be Brian Rolston. Yeah, he's 35 but has three straight 30-goal seasons for the Wild and would be another good mentor for Stamkos. I also like Radim Vrbata from the Coyotes. He's young, 27, and has a right-hand shot, something the Lightning could use, especially on the power play. I'm not as sold on Ryan Malone. He could develop but has yet to have a 60-point season. But I do like the edge he brings to the game.
Other possibilities are Markus Naslund and even Cory Stillman.
My personal opinion, I don't mind the Lightning shooting for the moon. Hossa would be a great addition. But for a team that will not spend to the expected $56-million cap (Barrie said that won't happen), a player such as Vrbata might be the way to go. Again, don't discount that right-hand shot and he should be less expensive that Hossa. He also has time, age-wise, to develop with Lecavalier and Stamkos.
Don't expect much activity when it comes to defense. Oh, there might be some tinkering around the edges. But Barrie said he and Koules are happy with the young D, and they are on board with goalie Mike Smith. These guys want scoring. Bringing Vinny Prospal back for four years, $14-million and reuniting the MVP line was the start.
It's still a bit surprising that we are having this conversation at all. But hey, the owners started it by talking about going after the top guys. Better than a conversation about why they should spend $500,000 to sign Andreas Karlsson.