The most important piece?
Just to tie in to today's Q&A with Chris Gratton; was wondering about the Lightning's summer acquisitions, which, generally, I believe were sound given the financial parameters with which GM Jay Feaster had to work. I don't think it's much of a stretch to believe that Chris Gratton might be the most important pickup.
I know there were some higher-profile signings. Michel Ouellet and Jan Hlavac will play with center Brad Richards and Brad Lukowich comes in as a free agent from the Devils and tries to help solidify a blue line that lost Cory Sarich and Nolan Pratt. But Gratton seems to have the chance to have the largest effect.
Consider Tampa Bay hasn't gotten any consistent production from its third line since the 2003-04 Cup season with Tim Taylor as center. And even that year, most of the production came from left wing Dave Andreychuk. Last season was even more acute as Tampa Bay was as top-heavy a team offensively as their was in the league. That forced extra playing time on Vinny Lecavalier's line and on Richards. Not that those guys weren't up to it, but I bet if you would have asked, they wouldn't have minded another line picking up part of the slack. And that's where Gratton comes in.
Gratton, 32, had 13 goals and 22 assists last season, showed some muscle with 94 penalty minutes and averaged 12:05 of ice time. There is no reason to believe he will not score his usual 13 to 19 goals, especially if he gets the power-play time the Lightning talked about when Gratton was acquired from the Panthers for a 2008 second-round draft pick.
Now, perhaps, the Lightning gets some offense from somebody other than Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis. And if the rest of the third line clicks (right now it includes wings Jason Ward and Andreas Karlsson), Tampa Bay becomes an even more formidable offensive force.
That, of course, is the best case scenario. We have to wait and see how it all shakes out. But right now, my money is on Gratton, who is in his third stint with the Lightning, and may be ready to make his most important contribution.
We have a poll about this on the main Lightning web page. Give your opinion here and then go vote.
Lightning's best third-line center since, well, Chris Gratton in 1995-96