Lawton: More tweaks to defense coming
For everyone who has expressed so much concern over the state of the Lightning's defense, Brian Lawton wants you to know he feels your pain. Okay, that's a little journalistic hyperbole, but Lawton, the Lightning's new vice president of hockey operations, said if the season began today, he would not be happy with the state of Tampa Bay's blue line.
"No, not yet," he said. "We have some nice depth and some nice pieces I'm very happy about, but I still don't think we're there yet. We still have some work to do."
Right now, the team's top seven appear to be Filip Kuba, Paul Ranger, Matt Carle, Alex Picard, Shane O'Brien, Mike Lundin and Andrew Hutchinson. It is a very inexperienced group as after Kuba's 531 games, the next most-experienced player is Ranger with 220. That is why Lawton said, "We're very excited about the potential. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, though. Potential takes time. It's not an easy deal."
Lawton said all avenues of acquisition are still open (free agency, trades and waiver wires with names such as Darryl Sydor and Bryan McCabe floating around), but, really, it would seem trades make the most sense. We already have spoken about how the Lightning, with so many forwards, has some room to play, and it would seem players such as Jussi Jokinen, Michel Ouellet and Jason Ward would be the assets that can be moved. The maneuvering might not come as quickly as the retooling of the forwards. Then again, it is only July. As Lawton said, "We're definitely not done."
Lawton hit on several other topics.
- He said Vinny Lecavalier's contract extension, which will be announced Tuesday, may not be as advertised. It was first reported on Canada's TSN as a nine-year, $77-million deal. But Lawton said, "We're putting on the finishing touches. Everything you've read in the media, it's all false."
- Lawton said the training and equipment staffs all have been retained.
- He said assistant coaches Mike Sullivan and Jeff Reese, still are technically employed by Tampa Bay, are talking to other teams.
- Lawton also better defined the team's management structure. He said he and general manager Jay Feaster are in discussions to define Feaster's role. He said co-assistant general managers Tom Kurvers and Claude Loiselle will split duties. Kurvers will be more concerned with player issues, more so on the minor league side. He said Loiselle will work on contract negotiations and CBA compliance. "So they'll be a division of work, the way I see it," Lawton said.
- Jim Hammett, the new director of player personnel, is one of the "senior people" along with Lawton and owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, all of whom will be in on personnel decisions. "It's a group decision on everything. At the end of it, we canvass everybody's opinion and then we come down to, generally, Len, Oren and myself," Lawton said.
The good thing about a triumvirate: "There's three people, so there's never a tie," Lawton joked. "Everybody is really good about it. Those guys defer to me if there are opposing opinions. I think it's worked remarkably well considering Oren, Len and myself are reasonably new."
- As for Lawton's role, the hocky operations department reports to him, and he reports to owners Oren Koules and Len Barri. "My (butt) is on the line if things don't go well," Lawton said. "I know that and I accept it. I need to be able to give praise as quickly and as easily as possible, and be confident in myself and my abilities. Everybody else gets the credit if we can do something successfully, and I'll take the responsibility if things don't go well."
- Ultimately, though, Lawton said, "At the end of the day, the titles aren't so much important for this organization. It's more breaking down barriers and removing obstructions."