With the NHL and NHLPA coming to an agreement last night, it’s time to take a peak at what the Lightning might look like when the season starts in a couple weeks.
I was asked on Twitter this week how I thought the Lightning would fare in a shortened season. My answer is three fold. It depends on:
2. Special teams
3. How quickly the team gels
Despite the large void the NHL lockout created, the hockey season is already long underway. Various amateur and professional leagues throughout North America and Europe have wrapped up their preseasons and are set to begin or are already in the thick of regular season action.
The Lightning's new AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, open their 2012-2013 season tonight with an impressive roster that boasts the nucleus of last season's Calder Cup-winning roster and an infusion of talent with varying professional experience: (J.T. Brown, Brett Connolly, Danick Gauthier, Riku Helenius, Dmitry Korobov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jared Nightingale, Matt Taormina and J.T. Wyman). In the absence of big-league action, watching much of the (currently foreseeable) lifeblood of the Lightning's future skate and bond together is a much-welcomed tonic.
Brett Connolly, you may have noticed, has been a polarizing figure for some time now. From the day he was drafted, really, as his gum-chewing and detached demeanor during an interview rubbed some the wrong way. Subsequent appearances have not helped much to alleviate the general perception of Connolly as cold and aloof, the antithesis to the ebullient Steven Stamkos. Perhaps, too, the early returns Anaheim and Carolina have received from Cam Fowler and Jeff Skinner may have had some fans wondering if Yzerman chose the wrong kid in 2010. However, a lackluster personality and not developing as quickly as others can easily be forgiven.
That Connolly's immediate future within the Lightning organization has come into question, though, is mostly a result of his roller-coaster of a rookie season during which he seemed to spend more time plummeting than climbing. The late-season signings and professional debuts of J.T. Brown and Alex Killorn as well as AHL MVP Cory Conacher earning a contract are significant factors too, but the discussion truly begins and ends with Connolly's own performance, of which opinions seem to range from entirely disastrous to, at best, disappointing. The prescriptions vary, too, from calls to bury Connolly in Syracuse for at least a season, starting him there with the expectation he'll earn a call-up, having him battle for an available roster spot in training camp and even reserving one for him so as to avoid crushing his confidence.
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Christmas has come and gone for us prospect followers and the excitement is starting to wear off â€“ along with my headache from staring at a computer screen too long. At one point Twitter told me it couldnâ€™t post my Bolt Prospects tweet because I was tweeting too much. Fair enough. On Sunday the picks and information were coming in faster than Cory Conacherâ€™s rise from a no-name to possible Calder Trophy candidate next year. It was tough to keep up.
Before the draft the Lightning had several organizational needs for the farm, not the NHL club. We get asked repeatedly on draft days if so-and-so can step right in and play. Unlike football, the answer is no â€“ outside of a couple picks in the top-5 overall. Yes, sometimes a Patrice Bergeron will sneak into the NHL right away, but itâ€™s best to just know that you wonâ€™t be seeing these players for a few years at the least, especially with the uber-patient Steve Yzerman in charge (and thatâ€™s a good thing).