TAMPA — Should the Lightning start the season with seven defensemen on the roster or eight?
Coach Guy Boucher wants eight because he sometimes plays seven instead of the usual six, and he believes he needs a buffer against injuries. But with Tampa Bay top-heavy at forward in skill and offensive ability, perhaps it is better to have an extra player up front and carry seven defensemen.
It is an interesting debate, the outcome of which will help decide the fate of Tampa Bay's bubble players.
That pool is about to shrink. C Marc Pouliot on Wednesday was put on waivers. If he clears at noon today, he will be assigned to AHL Norfolk. That leaves Eric Perrin, Johan Harju and Dana Tyrell fighting for the final spots at forward.
"It's very exciting," Tyrell said at the St. Pete Times Forum. "I can't wait to see what happens."
First, though, consider the defensemen. Tampa Bay has nine on the roster, with Matt Smaby, Mike Vernace and Mathieu Roy believed to be on the bubble.
If the Lightning goes with seven, it can carry up to 14 forwards on the 23-player roster. With 11 spots secure, Perrin, Harju and Tyrell all could be safe.
But if the team goes with eight defensemen and 13 forwards, one of the three would be left out.
Boucher said he is looking for third- and fourth-liners who can kill penalties. But he also wants intangibles.
"If a guy can win faceoffs, then that plays into the balance. If a guy is too slow, he doesn't fall into my type of player. I also like abrasive guys … so if we're looking for a third- or fourth-line guy, we're going to ask a lot of that from those players."
Boucher said not to assume that Tyrell, at 21 the youngest, will be sent out:
"If we feel a guy like Tyrell is going to be better in his role here because if he goes down and he gets a different role, it doesn't necessarily help us, he might be better off here."
The reverse happened to C James Wright, who was assigned to Norfolk.
"He could have been with us," Boucher said. "We don't want him to be just a grinding guy. We think there's more to his game in terms of skill and power play. He wouldn't be getting any of that here. You give him some ice time, that's not enough, in his case."
MORE WAIVERS: RW Niklas Persson, cut Sunday, also is on waivers. If he clears, he will be assigned to Norfolk. Persson's contract allows him to return to Europe, something the team said he is considering.
SMITH TO PLAY: Boucher said G Mike Smith (finger) will play Friday at Florida and might play at least half of the preseason finale against the Panthers Saturday at the Times Forum.
INJURIES: G Cedrick Desjardins sat out with what he called soreness in the groin and abdomen. Desjardins said he knew he wasn't 100 percent before Saturday's game at Calgary but did not tell the coaches.
"I couldn't tell him I couldn't play," he said of Boucher. "I worked too hard to get a chance like this."
"Obviously, he was trying to impress," Boucher said. "I can understand. The problem now is he's not impressing much."
MORE INJURIES: D Mattias Ohlund (undisclosed) sat out for a second straight day but is expected to practice today. … D Randy Jones (finger) is not expected to play this weekend.
ODDS AND ENDS: Despite clearing waivers, LW Chris Durno is still on the roster, though he is expected to be Norfolk-bound. … Boucher said the apology from Chicago's Nick Boynton for the throat-slash gesture he made toward Tampa Bay's Blair Jones after their Sept. 22 fight was "a mature reaction on his part." … Wednesday night's practice was cancelled.