Kukla's Korner

Defense Wins Championships? Not In Tampa

Matt Carle has the potential to be a great hockey player. But he’s not one right now. He’s an inconsistent but talented player that’s being thrown into the whirlwind mix of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” season. And generally, these types of situations either produce a superstar (rare, but possible) or shellshock career development (what happens most of the time). For better or worse (most likely worse), Carle epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the Tampa Bay Lightning in this young season.

Here’s Matt Carle in his third NHL season, a guy who was a healthy scratch on a pretty talented San Jose team for a good portion of last season, playing 30 minutes a night for two of the first three games. That’s Scott Niedermayer ice time for someone who would be a #4 defenseman on most teams.

A quick look at the box scores from the first three games shows that none of Tampa Bay’s opposing players have reached close to the 30-minute mark. Not surprisingly, the Lightning have had non-stop trouble trying to get the puck out of their zone, and they’ve had 40+ shots against in each of the three games.

It’s not Barry Melrose’s fault. He’s working with what he has, which isn’t much on the backend. When Mike Lundin is pulling in more than 22 minutes, you know you have a problem.

If the Lightning were going to trade Dan Boyle, the smart thing would have been to replace those minutes with two veteran blueliners—minute munchers who could play safe stay-at-home hockey while letting players like Carle, Andrej Mezsaros, and Paul Ranger (who’s coming back soon) to develop into both quality defensemen and young team leaders.  Except for journeyman Jamie Heward, the Lightning defense averages 24 years. That’d be young for forwards, but considering that defensemen take longer to mature, that’s bordering on absurd.

With about $3 million in cap space right now, the Lightning have little wiggle room. One move that might make sense is to pick up veteran Kyle McLaren from San Jose. McLaren, who’s in the AHL trying to prove that his knee and groin aren’t going to fall off when he skates, can be had for next to nothing. If he’s healthy, he’s a powerful hitter, a fairly sound defensive blueliner, and a good locker room guy. If he’s not healthy, he becomes a $2.5 million pylon.

The Lightning don’t have many options here. They’ve blown their cap space by overpaying players like Radim Vrbata and Gary Roberts. When Jeff Halpern returns, his quality defensive work will help anchor this team but more and more the Tampa roster looks like it was formed by a bunch of guys who just thought it’d be cool to have a hockey team without looking at the big picture.

Oh wait. That’s exactly what happened with new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie.

Filed in: NHL, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: matt+carle, tampa+bay+lightning

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