Training camp in a hurry
Training camp, held for the first time at the St. Pete Times Forum, is going to be a lot different than previous camps at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. Given a Sept. 16 start date by the league and the Players Association, the Lightning has just three days on the ice (Sept. 17-19) before playing its first preseason game, Sept. 20 at Pittsburgh. That means no two days of fitness testing. something made famous the past several years by former coach John Tortorella. Rather, the coaching staff will be teaching the new system and practicing right away.
Coach Barry Melrose said that also means quick and decisive position battles because the team wants to be as close to its regular season roster as it can be by the time it leaves for Europe after a Sept. 25 preseason game at the Rangers. That trip ends with regular-season games Oct. 4 and 5 in Prague against the Rangers.
"All the guys will go to New York we're taking to Europe," Melrose said. "There might be two or three other guys we're giving one more look to in New York. By the time we go to Prague. we're basically going to have our team picked."
With that timetable, Tampa Bay will have only nine days on the ice before making final cuts.
"Everything is accelerated," Melrose said, "without a doubt."
How did the schedule happen?
According to Players Association spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon, the four teams going to Europe -- the Lightning, Rangers, Senators and Penguins -- are starting camp three days before the rest of the league. But it was Tampa Bay's choice to play its first preseason game so quickly. Given the accelerated schedule, that is best, Melrose said.
"I'd like to have a game on the 17th," he said. "We have to find out about our guys. You're going to find out playing another team quicker than scrimmaging, so you might as well throw the guys into the fire and find out if they can play against NHL teams. Pittsburgh is a great challenge because they're so skilled. If you can play against the Pittsburgh forwards, you can play against any forwards in th NHL."
The Lightning plays four of its six preseason games against the Penguins and Rangers.
"Those are two good teams to play," Melrose said. "That will give us a good judge four our team. It also will give us a real quick judgment."
Where will the best position battle be?
On defense the top five are believed to be Paul Ranger, Filip Kuba, Matt Carle, Shane O'Brien and Alex Picard. That means Mike Lundin, Janne Niskala and Andrew Hutchinson and long shots Matt Smaby and Ty Wishart get to battle for the final one or two spots.
Hockey ops chief Brian Lawton has stated Mike Smith is the No. 1 goalie, but Olaf Kolzig is expected to at least push.
It also will be interesting to see what happens with 6-foot-6, 238-pound enforcer David Koci. There has been much speculation since Andre Roy left as a free agent about what the Lightning will do about an enforcer. Melrose said Koci, who has a one-year, two-way contract, will have every chance to make the team. Koci says his skating needs work. Brian Lawton, hockey ops chief, said team toughness can overcome the lack of a true enforcer.
I'll have a big package on the enforcer question on Aug. 31, I believe. (Space is tough right now with the Rays playing well and the Bucs getting rolling.) When it runs, and it includes a great Q&A with Melrose on his take on fighting in the NHL, it is definitely worth your time.