Gary Shelton had an article in the Tampa Tribune today interviewing former GM and Lightning founder Phil Esposito. For those who may not have read my blog post a year ago when the Lightning were reportedly thinking of moving Vincent Lecavalier prior to the draft, and Espo put his foot down in opposition to it, I am an absolute fan of The Godfather. When he speaks, you better damned well listen. So when I read that, "(Esposito) has talked about a role, perhaps as a consultant, with Vinik," I say you're a smart man, Jeffrey Vinik. Nobody knows this franchise better than Espo, nobody cares about this franchise more than Espo, and nobody is a better salesman for hockey in Tampa Bay, either. That man could sell a Mitsubishi to Lee Iacocca, and talk the CEO of Pepsi into putting a Coke machine in his lobby. He's that good, and while his time in the GM's chair may be past, he still has a lot more to give to this franchise, and I think he needs his name on the Cup one more time.
On a rather sad note, today will mark the final game for the ECHL's Johnstown Chiefs in Johnstown, PA. The franchise, owned by former NHL GM Neil Smith, has been plagued by financial problems for years and will be moving to Greenville, SC next season. Johnstown was the Tampa Bay Lightning's ECHL affiliate for three years between 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. Three of the Lightning's prospects who played in Johnstown have since seen time in the NHL: Radek Smolenak, Jay Rosehill, and Andre Deveaux.
I can honestly say that, outside of Norfolk Admirals fans, I don't think there's been an affiliate's fan base that was more supportive of their club than the fans of the Johnstown Chiefs. I'm sure this is a major blow for a town that has had some challenges over the past few years. Bolt Prospects salutes the fans of the Johnstown Chiefs and we hope that Johnstown, PA gets another franchise soon.
We're seeing a narrowing and tightening in the field of teams vying to make the postseason in the AHL's Eastern Conference. Three teams look pretty much guaranteed to be in: Hershey (109 pts, 1st in East), Worcester (89 points, 1st in Atlantic), and Portland (86 points, 2nd in Atlantic).
Albany (84 points, 2nd in East) is probably a very good bet to hang onto a playoff spot, but they're not a lock to remain in 2nd place in the East. The Admirals, for instance, are 6 points back of Albany with 1 game in hand and 1 game head-to-head remaining on the schedule. So, things could tighten up even more very quickly, especially if the Rats keep stubbing their toes against teams like Binghamton.
They're the first of six teams, including the Admirals, fighting for five playoff spots. Typically, they'd be treated separately by division, but with the crossover rule potentially vaulting a 5th place Atlantic team over a 4th place East team, we should treat them as lumped together. The other five teams are: Manchester (79 points, 3rd in Atlantic), Lowell (79 points, 3rd in Atlantic), Norfolk (78 points, 3rd in East), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (77 points, 4th in East), Bridgeport (75 points, 5th in Atlantic).
Here's what's left for the six teams:
The KHL's regular season came to a close Sunday, the NCAA is in the midst of its conference playoffs, and Canadian junior regular seasons will be closing next weekend. So, it's getting close to signing season, and I figured I'd post a little on the blog about some of the players who will potentially be joining the organization in the coming weeks and months. Before I do, though, I wanted to quickly address the new ownership situation.
Norfolk coach Darren Rumble said he was going with the goalie who showed more consistency and wins. With Dustin Tokarski and Riku Helenius both splitting time at the net, Tokarski has emerged lately as the go-to guy.
As Pete reported, Tokarski allowed one goal on 26 shots Friday against Binghamton, and shutout Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Wednesday. Heâ€™s currently tied for third among AHL rookies, and is ranked ninth among the league with 10 wins.
Antero Niittymaki is currently tied for the best save percentage in the NHL with Ryan Miller of Buffalo with a .939 mark. He's also second in the league in goals against average at 1.93.
We give props to the Turku mobster.
Here's your stat of the week:
Through six games, Norfolk's goaltenders have a combined 2.19 GAA and .925 save percentage. Mind you, they're 2-4-0 as a group, but you'd have to believe that if Tokarski, Helenius, and Janus keep this up the Admirals are going to be in great shape.
I mean, it's not like Martins Karsums can stay scoreless forever, right?
Just a reminder that tonight is opening night for the Lightning and Admirals, and Bolt Prospects chat will be open. It's available to anyone registered on the BP message board, and registration is free.
Training camp is just around the corner for the Lightning, and in about a month they'll be dropping the puck on the 2009-2010 NHL season. But, for Lightning prospect followers the season starts Thursday, September 10, when Dimitri Kazionov and Kazan square off with Yaroslavl. It will be Bolt Prospects' fifth season of covering the team's prospects, and one of the most interesting in the past half decade. Here's a quick preview of the year ahead:
We're still about a month away from the puck dropping on another NHL season, but the prospect season begins this week when Dimitri Kazionov's Ak Bars Kazan club lets the KHL regular season out of the barn. Shortly thereafter the Lightning will open camp for one of the most interesting and promise-filled seasons they've embarked upon in some time. There are still a few finishing touches that need to be put on the work, as there will likely be some key waiver decisions and possibly another trade, but now seems as good a time as any to evaluate what sophomore GM Brian Lawton did this summer.