On draft eve, a long, strange day for Tampa Bay Lightning
It is an odd moment, indeed, when the general manager of a professional hockey team needs to send out an e-mail to player agents and fellow GMs, emphasizing that he finally will be able to do his job. But these are odd times for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Brian Lawton confirmed he sent such an e-mail, though he declined to speak about it further.
The e-mail first came to light through the web site of Canada's TSN, which said Lawton declares, "I am the only person authorized to speak on behalf of the team with regard to player transactions."
This, it seems, is a direct result of Tuesday's meeting between commissioner Gary Bettman and co-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie. Remember, Bettman tried to mediate between the two by clarifying everybody's roles. Koules is CEO and governor. Barrie and Koules get to sign off on all major transactions, but Lawton, as head of hockey operations, is point man for those transactions.
Lawton, you also remember, once called last season the "chaos" of "too many voices" as he, Koules and Barrie were all in on making decisions. This e-mail, written, apparently, at Bettman's behest, is part of the attempt to have the team front office function professionally.
Then there was the Hockey news report that Barrie tried to solicit investments, it appears, while keeping Koules out of the loop by asking all inquiries be sent to Barrie or executive vice president Brian Rogers, who is Barrie's man at the St. Pete Times Forum. The magazine quotes the memo as saying, "You further agree that under no circumstances will you or your representatives discuss or otherwise communicate any aspect of the transaction to any member of the Company without the expressed written consent of the company."
If the memo is authentic, it is another indication of the rift between Barrie and Koules. Neither would comment.
Other stuff on the day before the draft: We are pretty confident the Lightning's preference is to take 6-foot-6 defenseman Victor Hedman with the No. 2 pick in the draft. But what if the Islanders take him first? My guess is Tampa Bay takes John Tavares and then explores the possibility of trading him over the summer. Why not just trade the pick at the draft table? I say why do it in haste when you have the entire summer to figure it out? ... It is looking less and less likely the team will trade the No. 2 pick, even if Hedman is taken by New York. ... Lawton said he offered goaltender Karri Ramo a one-way deal before the KHL came calling. But Lawton admitted the money was not as good as Ramo will get from Avangard Omsk, and Ramo will be the No. 1. Still, Lawton said he is "extremely disappointed" Ramo will not be with the team. Lawton also said what we had thought: neither Riku Helenius nor Mike McKenna are ready for a backup role in the NHL. Acquiring a goalie, perhaps through free agency, is the best route. ... Rumors still persist about a Vinny Lecavalier trade, but that is appearing less and less likely this weekend as well. Not that it can't happen, but the chatter is greatly diminished. ... Hedman will be joined at the draft by father Olle, mother Elisabeth, brothers Oscar, 23; and Johan, 27; and girlfriend Sanna, 19. ... What will it take for Tampa Bay to perhaps trade the No. 2 pick? "If we have a chance to get a real quality, established player that is still in his lower 20s, then we'd look at that. But we're not looking to add an excellent or elite player that's 30 years old. That has no interest for me whatsoever." In other words, offer up, say Luke Schenn instead of Tomas Kaberle.
Lawton was very good on why top draft choices are so much more finding their way into opening-day rosters.
"There's a little bit of a paradigm shift in the league with these first-round picks. I think it is uncharted waters in regards to how valuable these guys are. It's based on two separate points. First, the salary cap. These players are cheaper and that adds extra value to them. The second part is related to the rules. These young kids with their energy and speed that you get with these top picks, that makes them more valuable than, say, 10 years ago when you could sneak around the ice a little more. You could use your stick and hook and hold. With our zero tolerance policy on these stick fouls, it makes these guys more accessible to start earlier. That's a dynamic shift we witnessed."
Lawton also had a good quote on his evaluations of Hedman, Tavares and Matt Duchene, the top three players in the draft:
"We're picking lint off thousand-dollar suits with these guys. No warts. They're excellent young people, and their games speak for themselves over the course of the year. But how they acquit themselves off the ice was very impressive as well."