Fran Sypek of the Republican did a good, concise writeup on the impending Falcons training camp Wednesday after the Lightning reassigned 18 players to Springfield. So, with the Falcons' beat writer breaking the tape I believe it can be officially declared that speculating on Springfield's roster to be fair game. In this blog entry I'll give a good crack at it.
Prospect tournaments are a very important part of the developmental apparatus of an NHL organization. I made this case pretty emphatically a few years ago on another website in another job: there are few better diagnostic tools for an organization than a prospect tournament to help evaluate the relative strength of a crop of players as well as to sort out their initial place inside an organization.
Today the Tampa Bay Lightning completed a trifecta of sorts signing RW Martin St. Louis to a six year deal. Over the past two seasons, the core of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been, in my opinion, Dan Boyle, Nikolai Khabibulin, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis. The unfortunate reality of the new CBA was that GM Jay Feaster was forced to try and re-sign 4 of his 5 core players under restrictive circumstances. Given the difficulties Feaster managed to sign Boyle, Lecavalier and St. Louis, and 3 out of 4 ain't bad. This is especially true considering the Lightning locked up one of it's two most important components (the other being Brad Richards) Vincent Lecavalier to a 4 year deal.
Lecavalier's reported $27.5 million dollar contract seemed to spark a lot of controversy within the Lightning fan base, however. Lightning fans asked how the team could be held together with Vinny making so much money. They wondered if the deal would force out St. Louis or possibly Pavel Kubina or Brad Richards next season. And, above all, they cursed teams like Boston and Calgary for raising the contracts of young superstars like Joe Thornton and Jarome Iginla to the stratospheric heights of over $6 million dollars a season. Indeed, it's sometimes hard for me to believe a penny conscious team like Bill Davidson's Tampa Bay Lightning just committed roughly $50 million dollars to two players in the span of just a week. Is this the shape of the new NHL?
Jay Feaster announced during today's press conference to mark the signing of Vincent Lecavalier's four year deal with the club that the team intends to carry a roster of the minimum 20 players.
For the Lightning's prospects this likely means only the #6 defenseman spot will be available for Lightning youth looking to make the team. It also will likely squeeze center Eric Perrin out of a roster spot, perhaps fueling rumors he is planning to return to Europe this season.
In his Friday column Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune speculated the team's cap situation may force the Lightning to carry one or two rookie defensemen on the roster on opening night. That's a pretty fair expectation and at the very minimum I suspected the Lightning would put one of the rookies into the #7 defenseman slot at the league minimum for economic reasons. Erlendsson lists several prospects as potential options and, in particular, highlights Swiss stay-at-home defenseman Timo Helbling. Helbling, you might remember, checked in at #5 on my personal list of overage Lightning prospects. Here's my handicapping of the situation: