Can one’s thoughts be anything but scattered at this time of year?
I mean, hell, just look at Jaromir Jagr, who apparently disappeared off the face of the planet just when everyone was expecting him back in Pittsburgh. (How no one aside from myself has implicated the infamous Deven Dark in his apparent abduction to this point is beyond me. I mean, have you heard anything from “The NHL Guardians” since All-Star Weekend? Well… Have you?)
Aside from that, here’s a look at what else is burning up my remaining brain cells at the moment:
***I suppose I ought to start in my own neck of the woods and right about now, there’s no appropriate topic to kick that off other than what the wittiest members of the Twitterverse have dubbed either #Stamkosteria or #Stammergeddon. That Steven Stamkos has yet to be inked to a new deal by the Tampa Bay Lightning, with restricted free agency, oh, a little over 15 hours away, is neither cause for a panic attack nor a sure sign of the end of the world (chew on that, Mayans pointing to the NHL12 cover). However, with each passing minute (okay, maybe with each passing hour?) the situation becomes a little bit less comfortable, I guess we can say, for everyone involved.
All I can add to whatever you’ve read
everywhere else is that I’ve crunched numbers from every angle and no matter what, at this point, I see the Lightning as having to make some significant residual move or another after Stamkos is retained (and I most certainly do believe that, one way or another, that will still be the end result) not so much to fit everyone in under next season’s salary cap but to do so with some flexibility for both the long and the short term.
As the start of free agency nears, hockey folks everywhere will scour the rosters of all 30 NHL clubs, trying to identify potential holes to be filled or positions in need of an upgrade through the madness that begins on July 1st. It’s only natural – and it’s a fun part of being a hockey fan.
Who do I want my team to target? Which players make sense? How can my team get better in a hurry?
If and when any of the prognostications yielded through that process become reality, Average Joe Fan Guy gets to channel his inner Barry Horowitz, pat himself on the back and incense his pals with the ever-gratifying “Told ya so!”
Unfortunately, more often than not, from the fan’s perspective, free agency wish lists and the off-the-wall lineup projections that come with them lead to eventual disappointment. You can plug holes in your lineup in EA’s annual NHL video game release at the touch of a button. In the real world, getting Brad Richards to sign in Phoenix isn’t quite that easy.
There are some factors that flaw the dream scenario process from the start, of course. Namely, Average Joe Fan Guy tends to forget about the business side of things that makes replacing an exiting veteran with a more cost-efficient youngster and other moves of that nature a necessity. So, when the Sean Bergenheims of the world appear to be on the cusp of leaving a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, it would be wise to hold off on automatically looking to fill the void with any of the bigger-ticket veteran names that might be out there. Instead, welcome an up-and-comer like Blair Jones, recently re-upped himself here in Tampa, to an expanded role with the big club and hope that he can meet the demands of that challenge.
The NHL Entry Draft is one of those annual “hope springs eternal” events. If the awards show bids farewell to a season gone by, the selection process for the latest prospect crop marks the league’s transition into next year.
Just like that, every club starts anew.
Just like that, the page is turned for all.
The Boston Bruins reign as Stanley Cup champions has just begun and yet, as of tonight, even they have work to do. 29 other teams are now gunning for what they have. And for some, reshaping their franchises to make a run at hockey’s iconic chalice will start with their first overall selection tonight.
Of course, it’s been said that there aren’t any immediate game-changers to be had among this crop – and certainly not beyond a half-dozen or so prospects atop most draft boards. But the draft itself has become such an integral aspect of building a championship-caliber team, even the late round selections will be a product of weeks and months of internal debate and study on the part of a team’s decision-making hierarchy.
For other clubs, the leap from 2010-11 to 2011-12 will be aided during draft weekend by trade. This year, with the Philadelphia Flyers kicking things off with a pair of earth-rattlers a day in advance, shipping key components Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town in separate deals yesterday, the expectation is that trade activity in St. Paul could be high. As teams gear up for free agency next week, some will look to get a jump on crazy season by filling holes and altering their salary scales with a deal or two and there is a wealth of big-name talent reportedly on the trade market already.
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He spoke of Tampa in a consistent past tense and yearned for an opportunity elsewhere.
He looked at an AHL stint as a chance to refine his game, showcase his skills and provide leadership for those just starting their professional hockey careers.
He did not expect to be back in a Lightning uniform and he certainly couldn’t have predicted a clutch showing in game four of the Eastern Conference Final, as he put forth today.
In his mind, Mike Smith was as close to being a former Bolt as it gets in late February, when he and I spoke at length over the phone – he in Norfolk, Virginia and I, here, in Tampa – but just a day later, Smith’s Lightning career breathed new life, as he was placed on re-entry waivers after the team shipped backup goaltender Dan Ellis to Anaheim. Clearing a day later, Smith rejoined the Bolts and took his place behind Dwayne Roloson on the depth chart in the Lightning crease.
And today, Smith stepped in for Roloson, who yielded three Boston goals on nine shots in the first period, stopped all 21 Bruin shots he faced and earned the all-important win as his teammates rallied for five unanswered goals to even the series at two games apiece.
It’s amazing how things turn out sometimes, isn’t it?
“Yeah, it is,” Smith said after the game four victory, recalling the exact conversation we had back then and reiterating the gut feelings he had at the time.
“I never thought I would play for the Lightning again.”
Seize the day, right?
Several NHL GMs will look to pounce on the opportunities that present themselves today but it remains to be seen what, if any, affect the steady stream of deals leading up to this year’s deadline will have on today’s action.
I have a few questions to answer from yesterday’s mailbag post but we’ll get to those in a moment.
First, a spattering of thoughts running through my head this morning:
*For starters, I’m expecting (though not betting too heavily either way) that the Tampa Bay Lightning will be relatively quiet today. The additions of Dwayne Roloson, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Eric Brewer have filled some specific needs already and, though some veteran forward depth would be nice, the question of which of the Lightning’s very effective, very consistent role players would be pulled from the lineup to make room for an import has always stood in the way. Point being, while some depth for injury protection would be nice, it isn’t necessary. And, with Ryan Malone now expected back in early April, as per the St. Pete Times, the Bolts can look at his return as a late-season addition as well.
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