Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning players planting seeds for next season

Tim Wallace is coming off a pretty good week for the Lightning.

He had the winning goal in the March 24 game with the Islanders. Monday against the Flyers, his perfect pass sparked Marty St. Louis' breakaway goal, and he separated Jaromir Jagr from the puck by decking the future Hall of Famer with a clean, hard check.

Those were fertile seeds planted by a player who needs a new contract. "Definitely," Wallace said. "For everybody, every game is an opportunity to showcase what you can do."

That is especially true with Tampa Bay, which figures to have jobs up for grabs next season, especially on its bottom two lines, and whose injury woes and trades opened roster spots for players who otherwise might not have gotten much of a look.

Those players include Wallace; center Trevor Smith, who gets power-play and penalty-kill time; right wing J.T. Wyman, a penalty-kill regular; and left wing Pierre Cedric-Labrie, who added a physical element the team needed and who coach Guy Boucher said also "plays smart."

Wallace was on his way to the minors when Tampa Bay claimed him off waivers from the Islanders. The others were called up from AHL Norfolk.

"When you look at the players, maybe there's that one guy who was called up who never would have been called up if it wasn't for our situation and will make it next year because of what we're learning right now," Boucher said. "He might score a Stanley Cup goal two years from now. You never know."

That the Lightning is even having such a conversation is a good step for a franchise that because of bad drafting from 1999-2007 was so bereft of organizational depth that general manager Steve Yzerman made it a priority to rebuild the minor-league system.

That Norfolk this season established an AHL record with a still-going 22-game winning streak indicates progress.

There still is a long way to go. More high-end talent is needed to create a feeder system to the big club that is self-sustaining. But the process has started, and trying to fill a depleted roster gave the Lightning an unexpected and encouraging glimpse of the earliest results.

It also gave some players hope.

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