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Lack of goalie development one of Tampa Bay Lightning's big franchise failures

Riku Helenius, drafted 15th overall by the Lightning in 2006, played one game for Tampa Bay — in 2008, replacing Mike Smith in a 6-1 loss to the Flyers — before heading to Europe to play. The Lightning is talking about bringing him back as a prospect.

DIRK SHADD | Times (2008)

Riku Helenius, drafted 15th overall by the Lightning in 2006, played one game for Tampa Bay — in 2008, replacing Mike Smith in a 6-1 loss to the Flyers — before heading to Europe to play. The Lightning is talking about bringing him back as a prospect.

The Lightning's preliminary pursuit of Finnish goaltender Riku Helenius is one of the more fascinating developments of the offseason.

Not because Helenius is the immediate answer to the team's problems in net — as assistant general manager Julien BriseBois said, Helenius is considered a "prospect" — but because it shines a light on one of the Lightning's greatest franchise failures:

It never has developed a goalie — not even a consistently reliable backup.

Of the 20 goalies Tampa Bay has drafted, Karri Ramo, the 191st pick of 2004, has been the most successful, playing 48 Lightning games from 2006-09 before being traded to the Canadiens.

Even Helenius, drafted 15th overall in 2006, had to go to Europe for his star to rise.

That sorry record, particularly in drafting, has consequences.

Consider 18 goalies have played for the Lightning since Nikolai Khabibulin led the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup. None was a real No. 1 except Dwayne Roloson, and that lasted five months in 2011.

There isn't much hope that trend will be corrected soon from within the organization. Its top two prospects, Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus, are not ready for the NHL. Even Mathieu Garon, who carried the Lightning for a while this season, is a career backup and recovering from a torn groin that ended his year.

As a result, general manager Steve Yzerman must look to free agency or trade to find a No. 1. He also must build organizational depth to at least give the team some future options.

Al Murray, in his second year as director of amateur scouting, said he has no such specific order from Yzerman. The plan, he said, is to draft the best players available. Still, Murray is not opposed to drafting a goalie with either of the Lightning's first-round picks next month, 10th and 19th.

"Not at all," he said. "But it's not something where we have to, either. Like I say, let's go along and see how everything unfolds."

Same with Helenius, who left for Europe in 2009-10 after disappointing in North America.

Helenius is now high profile after leading Jyp to Finland's elite league title with a 1.73 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in 13 playoff games.

The problem: He has one year left on his contract, and there is no transfer agreement between the NHL and the Finnish hockey federation, though apparently there have been talks.

BriseBois' assertion Helenius is a prospect also means Tampa Bay likely would offer a two-way deal potentially worth less than what Helenius would earn in Europe as a No. 1.

Perhaps that is why BriseBois said the Lightning has just "tested the waters" with Helenius.

"He had a really good season, and he's still young," BriseBois said.

Quite a development.

Lack of goalie development one of Tampa Bay Lightning's big franchise failures 05/19/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 19, 2012 8:55pm]
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