More on Meszaros deal and the defense
We all heard the scuttlebutt since the day the deal was made for defenseman Andrej Meszaros that Tampa Bay wanted to sign the restricted free agent to an offer sheet. That could not be done, however, because the team did not have the draft choices (a first, second and third in 2009) it would have needed, given the offer sheet would have been between $3.9-million and $5.2-million, to provide the Senators with compensation. Specifically, it did not have the third-round pick. Not just any third-round pick, it's own third-round pick that was sent to the Penguins in the deal for the rights to Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts.
Now, vice president of hockey operations, Brian Lawton, said the team was indeed trying to get that third-round pick back from Pittsburgh.
"I did," he said. "We had several conversations about it over the course of the summer."
Were they responsive?
"They were very responsive," Lawton said. "Ultimately, there wasn't anything that made sense for all the parties. Ultimately, we went our separate ways."
Personally, I think it worked out better for the Lightning because it got some dead weight in Filip Kuba off the books (regardless of what former coach John Tortorella said) and his $3-million salary, and Meszaros always will be better than Alex Picard, who also was given up in th deal. Tampa Bay gave up a first-round pick as well, but the team had two for 2009, and the one they got from San Jose in the Dan Boyle deal, which was sent to Ottawa, likely will be a low one.
That is not to say the defense is going to be good right away. The average age of the top nine is 23.7 and Meszaros is the most experienced with 246 regular-season games, though owner Oren Koules said he believes that is plenty.
"I'm not sure where the NHL myth is that the amount of games you play where you're young and then you're too old," Koules said. "I mean, I look at a guy like Meszaros who has played 246 games and played three seasons and went on a Stanley Cup run, I don't know why at 23 (on Oct. 13), you're a young defenseman. The guy played 270 games in the National Hockey League (including playoffs). All of a sudden, he'll be 30 and be too old."
I'll give Koules that point. Tortorella always used to say a defenseman needed 300 games before understanding how to play the game's toughest position.
For me, though, the real conversation is about how patient do you want to be. It's not a stretch to think the defense is going to go through some serious growing pains, especially early. No matter how experienced or not Meszaros is, the blue line as a whole is very young and inexperienced. It has potential to be solid, even great in a couple of seasons or sooner if the team tweaks and adds a veteran presence. Will there be patience until that maturity occurs?
Listen to Lawton:
"The facts don't lie, we have a young defense. We felt first of all, let's get a group that can grow together, but let's strengthen all the other components around them so they have a chance to develop properly and succeed. There will be nights when they don't and we'll wish we had an older D or this or that. We understand that and accept that risk. Ultimately, we feel pretty good about the upgrades we made at the forward position to help them out and the upgrades we made at our goaltending position to give them confidence to make mistakes, just to play. We're trying to balance that risk.
"In a perfect world, we would love to have a blend with all three of our positions with older players and younger players. What you want to do, though, is have detailed plans and rational thoughts. I get excited about our D. Those guys just need an opportunity. Where it goes from there, it's up to the effort and the level of professionalism you treat it with. We feel good about the character of the kids. we feel good the effort is going to be there and the level of professionalism. ... Does that mean we don't tweak it? No, it doesn't."
As for trades, Lawton said, "I don't think any of our positions is set. I say that because people are coming back on line and there are more possibilities than a month ago. We will continue to look at them and if we have a chance to upgrade at any position, we would definitely do that. There's no doubt about it. But am I out there grinding it out every day to upgrade our defense? No, I'm not."