Pete Choquette's blog

Newer Rumor - The Rumor Strikes Back

Sportsnet is reporting that Leafs GM Brian Burke has confirmed that the Lightning have asked for defensemen Luke Schenn and Tomas Kaberle as well as the 7th overall pick in exchange for the Lightning's 2nd overall pick in the June draft. Burke says that Schenn is the deal breaker for the Leafs.

Burke's interest in the #2 pick stems from his desire to draft London Knights center John Tavares, who may or may not be available depending on what the New York Islanders will do with the draft's top pick. Tavares was considered the top prospect in this draft going into the draft lottery, but a mediocre playoff performance by Tavares may have pushed behemoth Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman into the top slot. There also is at least one organization (Red Line Report) that believes that Tavares has been passed by speedy Brampton center Matt Duchene as well.

Where does this leave the Lightning? The ideal scenario has Hedman available at the #2 pick giving the Lightning the future #1 defenseman they so desperately need. If that doesn't come to pass, the Lightning must decide between drafting Tavares (or Duchene, who Lightning GM Brian Lawton recently scouted), or trading out of the pick. As long as the Lightning remember that they don't have to make a trade, the team should come out well ahead on draft day.

Selecting Tavares gives the Lightning a smaller, and arguably more talented version of Ottawa scorer Jason Spezza. It also gives them a one-two punch at forward only rivaled by Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh. That's not a bad situation to be in, and I suspect that with the Lightning scoring 4-5 goals a game it would certainly put people in the stands even if the team still struggles with keeping the puck out of the back of its own net.

A trade down can, and should, result in a king's ransom similar to the kind of deal the Lightning have reportedly demanded from Toronto. Personally, I think that asking for Schenn and Kaberle plus the 7th overall pick is a little too steep, but kudos to the Lightning for starting high in the negotation. If the Lightning could negotiate down to something along the lines of Luke Schenn and the 7th overall pick along with some other sweetener for the 2nd overall pick and a toss-in like Lukas Krajicek, it would be worth considering. That would give the Lightning a future shut-down defender in the mold of Adam Foote and the opportunity to choose between another shut-down defender like Jared Cowen, a Mike Richards-lite center like Luke's younger brother Brayden, the draft's best speedster in Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, or some other talented players like Minnesota's diminuitive playmaker Jordan Schroeder or Drummondville's top-notch offensive defenseman Dimitri Kulikov.

Now that's a rumor I could live with.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2008-2009 Season Wrap-Up

I hope some lessons were learned this season in the OK Hockey hierarchy. After spending the entire summer pointing the finger at the previous coach, GM, and scouts and slinging money around the free agent market like three drunken sailors on shore leave, I hope Oren Koules, Len Barrie, and Brian Lawton learned it takes more than flash to build an elite organization. Defense and coaching, for instance, are two very important components to any hockey team that OK Hockey neglected to adequately address heading into the season. When the club traded Filip Kuba to Ottawa for Andrej Meszaros, thereby making Paul Ranger the grizzled veteran of their d-corps, even Stevie Wonder could see trouble on the horizon for the Lightning. Lawton and Company’s reticence to address the obvious deficiency was puzzling, and turned out to be one of the ultimate downfalls of the season. And, of course, there was the unmitigated disaster of naming Barry Melrose the team’s Head Coach. Melrose could barely coach his way out a wet paper sack 13 years ago before he became a talking head on ESPN. What on earth possessed Oren Koules to believe his buddy had become Scotty Bowman in over a decade of inactivity, I’ll never know.

There's More


In case you were wondering, the Lightning have a 60.8% chance of receiving one of the top two picks in the NHL Draft Lottery to be conducted on Tuesday. The 2009 NHL Entry Draft is considered to have two top prospects: C John Tavares of London of the OHL and D Victor Hedman of MODO of the Swedish Elitserien. Hedman, in particular, may be a good fit for a Lightning team desperate for a legitimate number one defenseman.

The Lightning have an 18.8% chance of winning the lottery and moving up to the top pick, at which point they might select the offensively gifted Tavares and create an offensive trio in Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, and Tavares the likes of which would make even the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin envious. Or, the team could make a deal with the Islanders to move down to the #2 spot to take Hedman, who may be a more natural fit. Interestingly, the Islanders hold the San Jose Sharks' pick, which will be 29th or 30th in the first round, that the Lightning previously held before the Andrej Meszaros trade, and might be part of a fair package for the Lightning to move back a spot.

The lottery will be held at 8 pm on Tuesday and carried on Versus.

Smaby/Ramo Become Bolt Prospects Alumni

Tonight is a pretty special night for the staff here at Bolt Prospects. Tonight marked the 41st decision of the NHL career of Karri Ramo. It was also the 41st game of the season for Matt Smaby. Both are milestones for graduation from prospect status here at Bolt Prospects. Both young men are now considered NHLers in our eyes.

It's somewhat fitting that these two players should graduate on the same night. There have only been four players who have ever held the title of top rated prospect on this site. Smaby was the first when we debuted the rankings at the start of the 2005-2006 season. He held the title shortly for half a season before giving way to his teammate Ramo, who was standing on his head as a rookie for Springfield in the AHL. Ramo held the top spot before giving way to top draft pick Steven Stamkos, who graduated from prospect status earlier this season. Steve Downie earned the top spot in our Midterm Rankings shortly after Stamkos' graduation.


Picking Third (Or Fourth)?

With the Lightning going on a bit of a run, picking up points in 8 of their last 10 games, the team has played itself out of the second position for the draft lottery and now sits 1 point above Colorado in the standings. Considering the Avalanche's talented young center, Paul Stastny, just broke his foot and will probably be out for the remainder of the season, the Lightning may end up locked into the third position in the draft lottery. That would mean the odds would overwhelmingly favor the club picking third or fourth in the upcoming 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Picking in one of the first two slots in this draft would be fairly easy. London center John Tavares and MODO defenseman Victor Hedman have rightfully dominated the draft discussion. Picking third is a different animal altogether. It's a scenario not unlike the 2001 draft when the Lightning lost out on the opportunity to draft Ilya Kovalchuk or Jason Spezza when Atlanta won the draft lottery and pushed the team down to pick number three.

The good news is, I don't think the Lightning are going to get stuck with a lemon like Alex Svitov if they don't wind up in the top two picks. There are quality players on the board that should add to the core of the Lightning rebuilding project. Here's my board thus far:

1.) C John Tavares, 6'0" 198 lbs, London (OHL)
2.) D Victor Hedman, 6'6" 220 lbs, MODO (SWE)

More on the flip

Upcoming Graduations

A quick update for anyone interested in upcoming prospect graduations...

Karri Ramo needs just 6 more decisions to graduate from prospect status according to our site's criteria.

Matt Smaby needs just 11 more games this season to graduate.

Noah Welch needs just 13 more games this season to graduate.

The Lightning have exactly 13 games remaining on their schedule. Bolt Prospects will issue its Final Rankings for the 2008-2009 season following the conclusion of all prospects' playoff seasons, and with prospects like Dustin Tokarski, James Wright, and Luca Cunti possibly poised to make some deep runs, it may be a while. Expect significant changes at the top of the list, though, with two of the only four prospects ever to hold the #1 spot (Stamkos and Downie being the other two) on our rankings likely to graduate by year's end. And then there's the playoffs...

It should be fun.

Remembering Bill Davidson

Tragically, the Lightning had a death in the family this week, as former owner Bill Davidson passed away at the age of 86. Davidson, who built a billion dollar business, sports and entertainment empire, won three NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons, one NHL championship with the Lightning, one IHL championship with the Detroit Vipers, and three WNBA championships with the Detroit Shock. In short, Davidson left a tradition of success wherever he went, whether it was in building his family's glass company into a global giant, or building the Palace of Auburn Hills without a dime of public money.

I don't know if I'm the best person to write about Bill Davidson, because I always got the impression from watching Davidson that if you locked he and I in a room we probably wouldn't have agreed about anything: politics, business, sports, etc. Then again, maybe that makes me the perfect person to write about Davidson's impact on the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise, because I've never really viewed Davidson through the lens of doe-eyed admiration or sentimentality.

Did I have disagreements with the way Davidson ran the Lightning? Sure. I especially had disagreements with the trust he places in Palace Sports and Entertainment executive Tom Wilson who, in a fit of PR genius, was quoted in the Detroit papers the day after Davidson bought the Lightning as claiming PS&E didn't care about the hockey team and only was interested in turning the then Ice Palace and the parcels of land surrounding it into a profit generating machine. Davidson ran the Lightning with a patience, coolness, and dispassion that, in my mind, surely came from being an owner who wasn't from Tampa and probably always viewed the Lightning as a stepchild to his beloved Pistons. Some of his budget decisions probably prolonged the time it took for the Lightning to rebuild, and the faith he also placed in some of the former hockey operations people from his Detroit Vipers probably also prolonged the time that Lightning fans had to suffer watching last place hockey.

But, with that said, I can't argue that Bill Davidson didn't improve the condition of the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise immeasurably in the time that he owned it. It's also inarguable, in my mind, that the franchise has slid backwards, to a degree, since he sold the team. Davidson and his PS&E management brought professionalism and real-world experience to a franchise that had been nothing short of a zoo in the years that it was owned by Japanese consortium Kokusai, and flamboyant braggart Art Williams. He might have done it at a slow and steady pace, but he brought a championship to a Lightning team that only managed two playoff wins in all the preceeding years before he bought the club.

That, ultimately, is the only objective way we can measure a man's success in his life's endeavors, whether they're in his family, his business, or in a multi-million dollar sports franchise. Did you leave it better off than when you came into it? Bill Davidson left the Lightning better off than when he gained control of the team, turning it from one of the NHL's longest running jokes into a team that, for a time, was touted as the very model of how a franchise should be run in a small, Southern market. That's the legacy Bill Davidson left behind, and that's why this writer and everyone at Bolt Prospects extends our condolences to the family and friends of Bill Davidson on this sad day. And, that's why, no matter what happens, the Davidson family will always have a place in the Tampa Bay Lightning family.

"High Profile Busts"

Memo to Hockey's Future: when a 5th round pick and a 6th round pick don't pan out, that's not a "high profile bust."

Your pals,
The Bolt Prospects Staff

P.S. Alexandre Pic(k)ard is an Ottawa Senator. Better luck next time.

Uneasy Anticipation

After a flurry of activity earlier this summer, the Lightning's offseason has finally slowed down. So, I think this is a good time to take stock of everything that has happened so far. There has never been a time in Lightning history where both the roster, the coaching staff, and front office of this franchise has changed so dramatically. The incredible multi-dimensional makeover of the Tampa Bay Lightning has rightfully generated a lot of interest in the upcoming season, and a lot of credit has to be given to OK Hockey on that account. It's not always easy to generate a significant buzz for a team that finished dead last in the NHL last season, and it's a credit to this group's salesmanship that the trade of two of four members of the ex "Fantastick Four" (Brad Richards and Dan Boyle) hasn't been accompanied with a sense of doom in the fan base.

That said, I think anyone with unbridled optimism for the Lightning this coming season needs to ratchet down expectations to a more reasonable level. The simple truth is that OK Hockey has made several risky moves and the outcome of those moves won't be known for months. What we should all be left with, I think, is what I would deem an "uneasy anticipation" for the coming season.

Lightning Not Done On Defense/Feaster Out?

Apparently the local media got some face time with new-GM-in-waiting Brian Lawton this afternoon, and Erik Erlendsson reports on his blog that Lawton is not done tweaking the Lightning's blueline, contrary to earlier talk by Len Barrie that the team was done making moves. Thank goodness. The corps, as currently constituted on paper, is softer than a stick of butter left out in the sun and greener than the Incredible Hulk. The Lightning desperately need a veteran stay-at-home thumper capable of playing a minimum of 18-20 minutes a night. They need a defenseman who, if nothing else, Coach Melrose can throw out on the shift after goals or on the penalty kill in momentum-changing scenarios to keep the game from tilting against them. They also need that player to have a more physical edge to move players out from in front of Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig's crease. Forwards like Jussi Jokinen or Michel Ouellet are rumored to be the bait.

Lawton also cleared up questions regarding last year's assistant coaches Mike Sullivan and Jeff Reese. Both are still under contract but are actively seeking work elsewhere.

Claude Loiselle and Tom Kurvers will split Assistant GM duties. Loiselle will handle contract issues while Kurvers will be more active in player personnel decisions.

And finally, in sadder news, rumors continue to crescendo that GM Jay Feaster is about to have the final three years of his contract bought out so he can depart the organization.

And the shoes keep dropping.

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