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Final thoughts from the weekend



The Oren Koules and Len Barrie were so visible tells you they are feeling pretty good about soon closing OK Hockey's $200-million deal to buy the team, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 5.5 nearby acres. It also tells you the meeting they had with commissioner Gary Bettman went a long way to taking off the gag order that has kept them from talking to reporters. Koules announced the drafting of Steve Stamkos, went on Canadian television (briefly to extol Stamkos) and on Saturday spoke about draft pick David Carle.

That said, it appears the entire ownership group could be introduced as soon as Monday in Tampa. That could be the start of a big week that also could include finally introducing Barry Melrose as the next coach (he supposedly will be in town today looking at homes) and a visit from Stamkos. There also are indications an  announcement on Vinny Lecavalier's contract extension is 10 days to two weeks away. That's just a guess but that seems to be the timetable I can piece together.

GM Jay Feaster was pretty adamant earlier in the week that with the 62nd overall pick he wanted to find a a player that could be another Brad Richards, that is a player who, like Richards (the 64th overall pick in 1998), could quickly get to the NHL. But here is where 10 years of bad drafting and personnel decisions came home to roost. With little organizational depth and extra draft choices, the Lightning could not trade up and by the time the pick came around, the players Tampa Bay had targeted, such as 6-foot-4, 195-pound defensemen Eric Mestery (No. 57 to the Capitals) were gone. So the Lightning traded the pick, and got three in return, two this year a third-rounder next year.

Steve Stamkos handles himself beautifully with the press. After a long Friday day, he showed up at the draft Saturday and did radio and television interviews and then stopped to talk to the print reporters. As promised, Lecavalier called, or actually texted since Stamkos' phone in Scotiabank Place had reception problems. "It was unbelievable," Stamkos said. "He's a guy I really looked up to."

The most intriguing pick of the draft might have been goaltender Dustin Tokarski with pick No. 122. As head scout Jake Goertzen said, the organization isn't usually fond of goalies shorter than six feet tall. But Goertzen said Tokarski, 5-11, 185, has the "heart of a lion." He also was MVP of the Memorial Cup and won 30 of 45 games.

The draft was a real departure from last season when the team targeted forwards. This season, with the picks so scattered and defensemen much more prominent, the Lightning spread its focus and drafted four forwards, three defensemen and a goalie.

I loved the story told by defenseman Mark Barberio, who is from Montreal and said he went to the same high school as Vinny Lecavalier. Barberio said he met Lecavalier once, when Barberio was 13 or 14. "You see this 6-foot-4 guy walking in, I was like, 'Oh, my God.' He has such a presence about him. It's unbelievable to be wearing a jersey he puts on every day."

How about right wing Matias Sointu, picked at No. 182, who is 5-foot-10, 154 pounds. He had 21 goals in 41 games in Finland last season. Goertzen called him "a finisher."

The draft is in Montreal next year to help commemorate the franchise's 100th anniversary.          

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]


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