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Tough decisions could be lurking for Tampa Bay Lightning roster

General manager Brian Lawton insists it is time to give the Lightning roster a chance to prove itself. So, assuming nothing big falls into his lap, Lawton said, he foresees no significant changes for the time being.

Oh, he might tinker around the edges, he said, "But I'm comfortable with this group of players. We're going to see what they can do."

That doesn't mean tough decisions won't be made. There might be many, and sooner rather than later.

Consider:

Tampa Bay's roster is at the 23-player limit. But center Chris Gratton (knee), left wing Gary Roberts (groin), left wing Matt Pettinger (knee) and left wing David Koci (hand) are on injured reserve. Center Jeff Halpern (knee) is on long-term disability. None counts against the roster.

Getting any of them back on the ice means creating space on a roster also recently peppered with youngsters — defenseman Matt Smaby and forwards Steve Downie, Paul Szczechura and Radek Smolenak — who added a needed jolt of energy and whom coach Rick Tocchet has consistently been talking up.

All of the sudden, tinkering around the edges is more like major surgery.

It's a nice problem to have, and the youngsters can be sent back to AHL Norfolk without clearing waivers if the realities of paying guaranteed veteran contracts become too much to ignore.

But is the easiest route the most prudent?

Halpern, who said he could be ready by either Dec. 18 or 20, is a no-brainer. He must be in the lineup. But given the lack of production of some of the veterans, and as long as the kids don't come too far back to earth, perhaps more debate will be held than would have been otherwise.

Tough decisions could be lurking for Tampa Bay Lightning roster 12/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 10:24pm]

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