The sale is the thing
Okay, guys, this probably is going to be my last post for a while unless something dramatic happens because, after nine months of almost daily work, I need some time off. Hard to describe what this season was like because there was so much going on beyond what was happening on the ice: the sale of the team, the injuries, the intra-team dramas. It was unlike any season I can recall, and I covered these guys back in 1999-2000, when they were awful.
Anyway, have a good story in tomorrow's paper about how drafting Steve Stamkos will be nice, though until the sale of the team is complete, the business of the team is at a standstill. As GM Jay Feaster said, "The biggest thing we have to get is a sale transaction complete. That's the first order of business. ... It is difficult to plan until we know exactly where we are as far as that goes.'' Later this week, we'll have something about how the team fell so far so fast and what must be done to set things right.
For today, though let's tie up some of the loose ends:
Andre Roy: The chances of him coming back to the team seem remote at this point. It can change but can't imagine, after all that happened this season, that the coaching staff read this morning he has no regrets over what happened in Philadelphia and will welcome him back with open arms. Roy could be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Shane O'Brien: Why was O'Brien benched the final five games of the season? In coach John Tortorella's eyes, he was making the same mistakes over and over. He also lost a small bit of control over his weight, came in one day a couple pounds over his prescribed weight. Both things combined got him benched. O'Brien said the air is clear after Monday's meetings, but he won't forget the embarrassment of being benched. "Fuel for the fire,'' he said. Tortorella, I believe, equates O'Brien with Pavel Kubina. Kuby turned out well, but it was a struggle to get player and coach on the same page.
Jeff Halpern: Depending on where Stamkos fits, he either stays on the second line or drops to the third. Likely to bump around, either way. But a great pickup for the Lightning.
Stamkos: Didn't you love the stuff the kid said in the paper this morning? Worked hard on his skating last summer. Considers himself a complete player so works as hard on defense. Knows you can't be successful in the NHL without playing both sides of the puck. Sounds mature and he has the skills. Can't wait to see him in camp.
Defense: Will be very interesting next season. Tortorella already has said Picard will make next season's team. He joins Dan Boyle, Paul Ranger, Filip Kuba, Brad Lukowich and ... who? O'Brien will have to win back favor. Mike Lundin may get some time in the minors, though he is so good with his stick, and now that he started getting power play time, he might force his way back on the team. Doug Janik is likely out. Might O'Brien be traded? How about Kuba, if anyone would take him and his $3-million salary, or Luke. A nice little drama coming next season.
Forwards: Looks like Andreas Karlsson and perhaps even Chris Gratton will be gone. Too bad about Gratton, but with Vinny Lecavalier, Halpern and Stamkos as the top three centers, do you think Gratton will be happy with fourth-line duty? Tampa Bay also wants Craig MacDonald back, another center, and center Ryan Craig should be back as well, though he could play wing.
Goaltenders: As soon as Torts said Karri Ramo should start in the minors, Ramo raised his game. Mike Smith has the tools to be a number one, just needs to be more consistent and stay in net once in a while. Note to Mike: If it's going to be icing, don't play the puck. Two young guys like that as a tandem. It could work, but the nets will be a point of concern again.
A final thought: The season was so bad and so full of bad luck, Feaster said before the draft lottery that there was "no way in hell'' Tampa Bay would win the No. 1 pick. But one of the Lightning's 250 assigned numbers (out of 1,000) came up. Feaster said is was nice, for once, for some sunshine to break through the dark clouds. Think about it, though, perhaps the Lightning's luck began changing at the trade deadline. As much as losing Brad and Vinny Prospal was a blow, the Lightning did very well to get Picard, Halpern, Smith and Jussi Jokinen. Now they probably get Stamkos. Look at the Flyers last season who went from 30th and 56 points in 2006-07 to sixth and 95 points this season. That is why the summer is so important and that is why this sale has to be done.