BRANDON — The addition of free agents Matt Carle and Sami Salo should make the Lightning better on defense.
But it isn't long into any conversation with Steve Yzerman about the players he signed this week that Tampa Bay's general manager tells you how good both are at moving the puck.
"They have good skills," Yzerman said Thursday at the Ice Sports Forum. "They can pass the puck, they can move the puck, and they're better skaters."
It is a critical critique. As much as Lightning blue-liners struggled last season with defensive-zone coverages, they were as inconsistent in transition — that is, sparking the offense by getting the puck out of the defensive zone and to the forwards.
Adding Carle, 27, and Salo, 37, both of whom have offensive credentials, should help alleviate a shortcoming that many times resulted in frustratingly long and physically draining puck possessions by opponents in the Lightning end.
"At times last year we had a hard time getting the puck up the ice," Yzerman said. "We worked hard at different ways just trying to get it out of our zone. … We feel we're a quicker team and we'll be able to get the puck to our forwards more easily."
"Look at the guys we added. They're all guys who can move the puck," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "They can make that first pass. That's really important to get out of your zone. It's probably the most important thing."
Those talents have become more important since the rules of the game changed.
After the 2004-05 lockout, defensemen could no longer use their sticks, hands or bodies to hold up forechecking opponents in chases for the puck, maneuvers that bought time for a defensive partner making a play.
"So, it's harder than ever to play the position," Yzerman said. "(Defensemen) have to be mobile. They have to get the puck and make decisions very quickly with pressure on them, so it's important to get the puck up."
And if teams cannot or do not forecheck and set up defensively in the neutral zone?
"That forces you to skate (the puck) up," Yzerman said.
When none of the above is being consistently accomplished, it forces the forwards to come back to the defensive zone to help lug the puck. That wastes time and saps energy that forwards would rather use to score.
As Yzerman said, "We want our forwards to come back and defend, but we also want our defense to say they have a responsibility. They have to defend, but they also have to get the puck up."
Those demands seem to work for Carle, who had four goals and 38 points in 82 games last season for the Flyers, and Salo, with 93 goals and 305 points in 13 seasons with the Senators and Canucks.
"My game is to play solid two-way hockey and help on the power play and help offensively by jumping into the play," Salo said. "If I can do that, I can help the team."
That, Yzerman would agree, is a conversation worth having.
SCHEDULE CHANGE: Today's three-on-three tournament at the team's development camp at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon begins at 1:30 p.m.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]