Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 08/26/10 at 11:51 PM ET
In these early days of the Steve Yzerman era here in Tampa, the consensus opinion on his re-molding of the Lightning roster has been overwhelmingly positive.
He promised a methodical approach and got to work in just that fashion almost immediately, adding here, subtracting there and strengthening the overall product all the while.
Few onlookers, if any, have been unimpressed.
But what has been done under Yzerman to this point, until on-ice results can be considered, that is, has to be labeled with the age-old, “on paper” caveat.
Essentially, Yzerman has shed some dead wood, plugged a few holes, added much-needed depth in key areas and maybe, just maybe, found the spark to reignite his club’s captain’s once-dynamic career. And before we forget, he’s given the hottest young coaching commodity in the hockey world the task of leading these fortified troops to success.
The first-time NHL general manager (who, by most accounts, resembles a seasoned veteran in the post already) has done his job.
Now, the onus is on the players to do theirs.
And this group should be more than capable.
The talent has been here in recent years. The outstanding individual seasons of Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos last year begin to tell that tale and the emergence of players such as Steve Downie and Mike Lundin only strengthens the point. What Vincent Lecavalier can bring to the table remains fresh in the minds of those who witnessed his most productive campaigns. There is an abundance of promise in a list of Lightning youngsters, led by defenseman Victor Hedman, that bodes well for both the present as well as the future. And what injuries have cost the likes of Ryan Malone up front, Mattias Ohlund on defense and Mike Smith in goal, to name a few, cannot be accurately measured.
But the returning group of core players now has what should be a better supporting cast than at any time during the OK Hockey era and a stable environment to boot. With the former, in theory, comes contribution in all aspects of the game from every forward line, from each defense pairing, from the backup goaltender and so on and so forth. The latter allows for no excuses.
Win hockey games, period.
Yzerman’s acquisitions have given the Lightning firepower in a top-six forward group of which most clubs can only dream (pick line combos out of a hat and, with Simon Gagne joining St. Louis, Downie and Malone as wingers to pair with Lecavalier and Stamkos, any end result should turn out just fine), a goaltending tandem in Smith and former Nashville Predator, Dan Ellis, ideally resulting in 1A/1B status and, finally, some competition afoot at training camp that should yield significant depth at all positions.
Sweeping change is often something to be leery of but, with a little luck, this new recipe for Tampa Bay’s success might actually produce the desired finished product in a playoff berth.
Of course, luck for this group will begin with avoiding the injury bug. Gagne, Malone, Ohlund and Smith are all tagged with question marks because of a hobbled history and recent word of a “minor” knee operation for Lecavalier didn’t exactly make Lightning Nation jump for joy. (The captain will be ready to go come camp, the team says, but skeptics will still wonder.)
Imagine briefly, however, that the names mentioned all stay healthy and produce at their best and all that could potentially fall into place here quickly comes into view.
Add in two of this summer’s most unheralded free agent signings in center Dominic Moore and winger Sean Bergenheim, the promise of an unproven commodity in Teddy Purcell, blue-collar workhorse Nate Thompson and wildcard Swedish imports Johan Harju and Niklas Persson and some of the forward depth starts to shine through. Ditto for the defense with once-and-again Bolt Pavel Kubina, veteran Brett Clark and a risk worth taking in Randy Jones, leaving an NHL-experienced Matt Smaby and the highly-regarded Matt Lashoff at the ready in a pinch.
And there’s no telling what kind of surprise training camp showing might come from one or more of Tampa’s emerging young prospects.
The talent is there.
You can bet the effort will be as well.
A few things fall into place here and there and the expected Lightning turnaround could truly be striking.
For now, though, while the wait for tangible results shrinks by the day, the “on paper” tag remains.
The “on-ice” measuring stick is only a few weeks away.
Filed in: NHL Teams, Tampa Bay Lightning, | KK Hockey | Permalink
Tags: brett+clark, dan+ellis, dominic+moore, johan+harju, martin+st.+louis, matt+lashoff, matt+smaby, mattias+ohlund, mike+lundin, mike+smith, nate+thompson, niklas+persson, pavel+kubina, randy+jones, ryan+malone, sean+bergenheim, simon+gagne, simon+gagne, steve+downie, steve+yzerman, steven+stamkos, teddy+purcell, victor+hedman, vincent+lecavalier
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