Give the kids a try
As we read in today's paper, the Lightning has decided, barring trades, to try and fill the last of its top six defensive positions with an internal competition. That means two things. It not only gives players such as Dan Jancevski, Jay Leach, Dave Schneider, Bryce Lampman, Matt Smaby and Vladmir Mihalik a huge opportunity. It also puts on hold negotiations with any free agents such as Nolan Pratt, Doug Janik or Jassen Cullimore. In fact, with the forwards and goaltenders set, it puts a hold on all free-agent shopping.
There are several layers to this, of course:
Camp: The original plan was to have 26 players in camp. Now, coach John Tortorella said, there will be 33.
Financial: With $42.34-million of the ownership-allowed $44-million payroll already spent, and with forward Ryan Craig still unsigned, things are a bit tight. If the team can find a defenseman internally, his contract will pay the league minimum $475,000 or a tick more, considerably less than the asking prices of, say, Pratt and Cullimore. Just a note on Janik, whose agent, Stephen Bartlett said does not have an issue with compensation, rather the Lightning's wish to sign him to a two-way contract that would pay less if Janik were assigned to the minors.
Growing your own: Because of such salary constraints, the Lightning, Tortorella said, better get used to developing its own talent instead of spending higher to buy. "We cannot continue to just go out and sign free agents, not with our payroll restrictions,'' he said. "This is an opportunity to take a longer look and what we have here and maybe develop from within.''
The question, then, becomes, who steps up after the top five of Dan Boyle, Paul Ranger, Shane O'Brien, Filip Kuba and Brad Lukowich? While the competition should be lively, it seems Jancevski, 26, signed as a free agent and a horse last season for AHL Hamilton, might be the front-runner going into camp. Feaster said he has confidence in all the kids. "That's why we either signed them as free agents, or acquired them via trade or drafted them,'' he said.
There's more on this in today's story.
A final note: I'll be taking the next 10 days off which is why the blog will have no new entries from me. But just a word of congratulations to you guys who keep coming back. The past two weeks this blog was the fifth most popular among all blogs at the St. Petersburg Times. The news shocked my bosses, especially because we aren't even in-season. I told them hockey fans are passionate that way. Anyway, just wanted to express my thanks for your interest.