Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 01/04/11 at 12:29 AM ET
For now, the Tampa Bay Lightning will roll on with three goaltenders.
But with Dwayne Roloson now in the fold, joining Dan Ellis and a still mending Mike Smith after Saturday’s trade with the New York Islanders, eventually, something will have to give.
Early indications seem to suggest Smith, who is close to returning from a recent knee injury, is the most logical odd man out for a variety of reasons, despite significant improvement in his play prior to getting hurt.
In the final year of a contract that carries a cap hit of $2.2-million dollars, it would make sense for the Lightning to try and deal Smith for whatever value the team could find before he hits unrestricted free agency at season’s end. That won’t exactly come easy, however, with the bottom line remaining some very unattractive numbers this year and overall statistics that have actually worsened consistently as the team in front of him has improved over the last three seasons. Add to that a history of injuries (Smith has appeared in less than half of Tampa’s games since the start of the 2008-09) and an unsavory dollar number for the kind of inconsistency he’s shown and it becomes awfully difficult to imagine logical trade scenarios involving the former Dallas Star.
Theoretically, the Bolts could hold on to Smith as a backup, assuming the 41-year-old Roloson emerges the clear-cut starter as hoped, and offer up Ellis to a team in need of goaltending help instead, but Ellis was brought in on a two-year deal as a free agent just this past summer and has shown dependability characteristic of a reliable backup, while the same concerns about Smith would persist in that scenario.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman will likely take his time in exhausting all options – wise posturing, at least for the time being, in case another club suddenly finds themselves desperate for goaltending – but it appears as though the most likely end result here will see Smith hitting the waiver wire at some point, almost certainly clearing and being assigned to AHL Norfolk (where playing time would be minimal, if not non-existent, with highly touted prospects Cedrick Desjardins and Dustin Tokarski already manning the Admiral nets).
That’s no ideal situation, to say the least, nor is it a foregone conclusion. As we’ve seen time and again with professional sports, much can change in an instant. But with the waiver process utilized more and more frequently in today’s NHL, where teams are prohibited from getting creative with contract responsibilities in trades as seen in other sports, Smith on waivers has to be the betting favorite here.
Still, patience will be preached until something truly has to be done and, for now, three will simply have to be company in Tampa.
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