We've been very quiet here at Bolt Prospects lately. It's not for a lack of interest in the team, mind you, or excitement about the impending draft. However, it's hard to post commentary at this time with so much up in the air. After years of having the same ownership and hockey operations team in place, it was easy to predict what the Lightning were going to do and what kind of players they would pursue. However, with new owner Oren Koules coming in with an ownership group suspected of also including former NHLers Len Barrie and Luc Robitaille and Head Coach John Tortorella cut loose with rumors of ESPN analyst Barry Melrose taking over, it's difficult to know what kind of players the Lightning will pursue. If Melrose does indeed take over, what will his system look like after 13 years out of coaching? How will he handle the new rules? No red line? It's impossible to say.
And so, my personal draft preview has to begin with this admission: I'm apprehensive about the ownership situation, and as the weeks go on I continue to wait for the next shoe to drop, and then the next, and then the next. Having a new ownership group which is more enthusiastic about hockey and willing to put more money into the on ice product is potentially exciting. But the idea of a cast of amateurs and/or people who have been away from the game for many, many years swooping in and hiring their cronies and giving them key positions of leadership in the hockey operations is frightening. I worry about the level of professionalism this new group is going to have, and without saying much of a word in the media Koules and his people have already managed to project the image of a traveling circus that is coming to town. Friday and Saturday's draft will be their first opportunity to show to the hockey world that they bring organizational discipline and rigor to the table, and not just the flash of a Hollywood production.
From a personnel standpoint, there's no secrets going into this draft. The biggest hole in the organization is at the second line center position, and Steve Stamkos will fill that hole immediately. Barring the Stamkos family car driving off a cliff on the way to Ottawa, the talented Sarnia pivot will be the number one pick Friday night, as evidenced by the fact the Lightning have been marketing the young man through their "Seen Stamkos?" campaign for the last two months. Having read the scouting reports from three independent organizations and having watched several of his World Junior Championships games, I have come to one conclusion: Steven Stamkos will be the most complete and most NHL ready player the Tampa Bay Lightning have ever selected in their history, including Vincent Lecavalier. He has been universally compared to former Red Wings great Steve Yzerman, and I have to say the comparisons are apt. On tape, like Yzerman, there's no one thing about Stamkos' game that makes me say, "Wow, he's going to be one of the best two or three in the game at that!" A guy like Mikkel Boedker, for instance, is a better skater than Stamkos, while heralded 2009 eligible John Tavares struck me as a better natural finisher. However, if you look across the board, there really are no weaknesses in Stamkos' game. He may not be the best at any one thing, but like Yzerman I suspect that when Stamkos matures he will be one of the best 10-15 players in the game at pretty much everything. Skating. Finishing. Passing the puck. Moving away from the puck. Back checking. Faceoffs. Battle level. Leadership intangibles. You have to put a check by every single one of these when looking at Stamkos.
According to the Arizona Republic, the Tampa Bay Lightning have requested permission to speak with Coyotes Associate Coach Rick Tocchet about an assistant coaching position with Tampa Bay. The Republic states Phoenix GM Don Maloney was on a scouting trip and could not be reached for comment. The newspaper also says Tocchet's contract with Phoenix ends at the end of the month.
Rumors continue to swirl that Tampa Bay will name ESPN's Barry Melrose head coach when OK Hockey takes over as Lightning owners next week. Meanwhile, reports are surfacing that the Atlanta Thrashers are speaking with Lightning associate coach Mike Sullivan.
According to tampabaylightning.com, the Bolts will be picking in the following spots next weekend during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft:
(Overall pick, round)
1. (First - Tampa Bay's own)
62. (Third - Tampa Bay's own)
122. (Fifth - Tampa Bay's own)
152. (Sixth - Tampa Bay's own)
160. (Sixth - Acquired from Chicago in Nikita Alexeev trade)
182. (Seventh - Tampa Bay's own)
196. (Seventh - Acquired from Nashville in Jan Hlavac trade)
203. (Seventh - Acquired from Anaheim in Jay Leach/Brandon Segal trade)
Tampa Bay's second round pick was traded to Florida one year ago for center Chris Gratton. Florida later moved the pick to Nashville in the Tomas Vokoun deal.
Tampa Bay's fourth round pick was traded to Los Angeles as part of the Sean Burke/Ryan Munce deal.
*The first round of the draft will be held Friday evening, June 20 (Versus). Rounds 2-7 begin at 10 A.M. Eastern on Saturday, June 21.
Members of the Mississippi Sea Wolves front office recently sat down with the Sun Herald to discuss the state of the team as it begins the process of preparing for its second season back in the Coast Coliseum since Hurricane Katrina.
During the interview, the Sea Wolves front office briefly discussed the future of a continued affiliation with the Tampa Bay Lightning:
(tampabaylightning.com) Tampa Bay Lightning Executive Vice President and General Manager Jay Feaster announced today that John Tortorella will not return next season as the teamâ€™s head coach. Tortorella has one season remaining on his contract.
(tampabaylightning.com) The Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed defenseman Alexandre Picard and signed defenseman Kevin Quick, Executive Vice President and General Manager Jay Feaster announced. Picard, acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers on February 25, signed a multi-year, one-way deal, while Quick received a multi-year, two-way contract.
Lost between the cracks of the John Tortorella/Oren Koules fiasco, the Lightning have reached an agreement with defenseman prospect Kevin Quick on an entry level deal. The word broke Saturday on Erik Erlendsson's blog. Quick played 18 games for Norfolk of the AHL last season on an ATO contract after being dismissed from the University of Michigan.
Carter Gaddis and Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reported in this morning's paper that the rumors are indeed true and that Head Coach John Tortorella will be fired once new owner Oren Koules takes control of the team within the next month. Rumors have been swirling for over a week now that Koules wants Tortorella replaced with former Kings bench boss and ESPN analyst Barry Melrose.
Call me crazy, but forcing out the winningest American born coach in league history for a guy who was 20-some games under .500 coaching in the NHL in his career and hasn't been behind the bench of an NHL team since 1994-95 doesn't strike me as an upgrade. Throw in the fact that Melrose was rumored to have an expanded say in personnel decisions late in his tenure in LA and the sharp drop off the face of the planet that team experienced after their Finals appearance in 1992-93 and you can officially color me scared now. Also, the idea that's been floated in the Canadian media, if true, that Koules is making this decision to try to market the sport of hockey more heavily to Tampa's supposed naive rubes (you know, the ones who happened to be in the top-10 in attendance league-wide over the past three seasons) also shows that Koules has a frighteningly limited understanding of the Lightning fan base and the Tampa Bay market as well. This isn't a town that needs to be sold on hockey, this is a town that supports its team and needs competent leadership to get their club back to the summit while Vincent Lecavalier is still in his prime. I'll give Koules the benefit of the doubt, and that the biased northern hockey media which still can't comprehend how the Lightning and Hurricanes came out of that terrible Southeast Division to snatch hockey's holy grail out from under their oh-so-entitled thumbs in two of the past four seasons is simply freelancing by reporting that as rationale on this move (when it's really just a buddy-hire, which is not better, but less offensive, at least).
It also doesn't strike me as terribly professional that the split has been handled this way. Perhaps that's an unfortunate function of the sale of the team, but going back to the way the deadline deals were handled there's an ominous trend developing of the Lightning hockey operations being conducted through the media with Koules' fingerprints all over the moves. Are you the Mark Cuban of the NHL, or the Daniel Snyder, Mr. Koules? Hell, neither one of them have won a championship, so does it even really matter? I could be wrong, but I can't imagine the Red Wings ever airing their dirty laundry out in public like this.
Damian Crisdotero of the St. Pete Times is reporting that Bolt Prospects alumnus Evgeny Artyukhin has agreed in principle to a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Terms of the deal are unknown at this time. Artyukhin will sign the contract on July 1st once he is legally eligible to sign under the rules of the CBA. The hulking forward spent the past two seasons with Yaroslavl, Omsk, and CSKA of the Russian Superleague. He last played in North America in 2005-2006 when he appeared in 72 games for the Lightning and potted 4 goals to go along with 17 points and 90 penalty minutes.