Two cuts to go
This is going to get a bit involved, so bear with me, here.
After Thursday's cuts, the Lightning has 29 players on its roster, but only 28 on the trip to Europe because center Jeff Halpern (knee) stayed in Tampa. The Lightning must get down to 24 players by the time it plays the Rangers in the season opener Oct. 4 in Prague. Usually teams can carry only 23 players, but the four teams in Europe can carry 24 if the extra player is a third goaltender. Karri Ramo earned his way to Europe with two stellar exhibition efforts. The Lightning also did not want only two goalies here in case one got hurt so far from home.
To make matters easier, lets start with the 29 and the assumption that Vinny Lecavalier (shoulder) is able to play. We should know more on that score Sunday when he gets in his first exhibition. The roster, then, will go down to 26 when defenseman Paul Ranger (shoulder), wing Nick Tarnasky (thumb) and Halpern are put on injured reserve, which takes them off the roster count for at least seven days.
That leaves two cuts that need to be made by the Oct. 4 game with the Rangers. That would bring the roster down to 24. That will have to be reduced to 23 when the team gets back to North America. It is assumed Ramo, at that point, will be sent to AHL Norfolk.
So who is on the bubble? It seems Jussi Jokinen has earned a spot. If that is true, that means forwards Jason Ward, David Koci and Michel Ouellet likely are sweating it out. On defense, the situation still is in flux. There are eight on the roster, including Ranger, who is going on IR. If the Lightning decides to keep the other seven, then everyone else is safe. If it wants six, then it would seem Mike Lundin, Andrew Hutchinson and Vladimir Mihalik will have to watch their backs. Personally, I think Mihalik has been the best of those three.
Mihalik brings up another interesting situation. Hockey ops chief Brian Lawton said he believes there will be times he will swap out Mihalik and Matt Smaby with the big club. In that way, he said, they both game some valuable experience. Smaby, of course, was sent to Norfolk after Thursday's game. Does that mean Mihalik has made the team? Lawton said no.
A lot to keep track of, I know. And speaking of keeping track, center Zenon Knopka and right wing Brandon Bochenski, who also were sent to Norfolk Thursday, can't be put on waivers until Saturday (the beginning of the 2008-09 waiver season), so we won't know if they clear until Monday.