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Lightning might have a big draft-day decision

15

June

If everything goes as expected on June 26, and the Islanders make sharpshooter John Tavares the No. 1 pick of the draft, the Lightning appears set to make Victor Hedman, the 6-foot-6 Swedish defenseman, the No. 2 pick and anoint him the future cornerstone of a rebuilding blue line.

But what happens if the Islanders take Hedman? Then, the Lightning has some decisions to make. Is it better to take Tavares or even the fast-rising Matt Duchene and bolster an offense that already appears it will be better with the development of Steven Stamkos? Or is it better to trade down and get the much-needed defensive anchor in the process?

It is an interesting debate, and we may not know which way the Lightning goes until New York makes its pick. In the meantime, it could revive the speculation of a deal with the Maple Leafs, who still want to advance from the No. 7 draft position.

For quite a while this has been an easy call. The Islanders, last in scoring last season and desperate to create a buzz on Long Island as it tries to get a new stadium, seemed to need Tavares more than Hedman. But New York GM Garth Snow has been closed-mouthed as to what he will do with the top pick. He told Newsday he likely will not trade down, but did not offer anything beyond that.

Combine that with Tavares’s slightly declining stock (there are questions about his skating ability and commitment to defense), and you understand how speculation arises that the Islanders may be looking at Hedman. For New York, choosing Hedman would be risky, not because of any question about his talent but because of the circumstances around the team. Consider Newsday ran an on-line poll asking what the Islanders should do with the No. 1 pick and 6,442 respondents (81.2 percent) said to draft Tavares. You don’t run a club by buckling to fan sentiment, but it has to be part of the equation for a franchise that is struggling at the gate.

But let’s, for the sake of argument, say the Islanders take Hedman. Does Tampa Bay take Tavares or Duchene or make a trade for a defenseman? Making the pick certainly would give the Lightning a more dynamic look on offense regardless of whether it went with Tavares or Duchene, and it would be better for the bottom line, as signing either would mean a three-year deal at $900,000 a season.

If the Maple Leafs swoop in and make an offer for the draft choice (as the Canadian media has said Toronto wants to do), GM Brian Burke could offer Tomas Kaberle, 31, who will make $4.5-million next season. He certainly would be an upgrade for a young defense, but that’s a lot of money for a financially conscious organization. On the other hand, if the Leafs threw in Ian White, whom the team seemed to have interest in last season, or Luke Schenn, Stamkos' friend who still could be available, all of a sudden you have added a huge amount of depth to the blue line.

The point is, there are many variables that will be juggled if the Islanders take Hedman. If they take Tavares, it all probably falls into place.

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

    

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