The National Hockey League released the 2008-2009 season schedules for all 30 teams today, and Tampa's schedule can be found here. The Lightning begin the season playing back-to-back games against the New York Rangers on October 4-5 in Prague, CZE. Following the season opener in Prague, the Lightning return to the St. Pete Times Forum to host a 5 game home stand culminating in the return of Dan Boyle and the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, Oct 25th.
Two West Coast trips with stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Anaheim highlight the main Lightning extended road trips. Multiple extended home stands of 5 games in October, 4 in November, 5 in January, 6 in February, and 4 in March help offset the European and West Coast trips.
The reigning Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings come to town on November 13, and Brad Richards makes his return to the Forum with his Dallas Stars on January 19. The defending Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins make two visits to Tampa in March, while the Lightning finish the season with 6 of its last 9 games on the road.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have announced the hiring of former Conn-Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup winning goaltender Mike Vernon as a special assistant to Brian Lawton, the VP of Hockey Operations. Vernonâ€™s duties will be to assist in hockey-related matters and to provide guidance to the teamâ€™s goaltenders. As an assistant to Lawton, Vernon figures to be part of the "group" that Lawton indicated would be assuming much of the duties of former General Manager Jay Feaster.
â€œThe Tampa Bay Lightning are thrilled to add a former Stanley Cup Champion to our staff,â€ vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton said. â€œMikeâ€™s past experience and knowledge will be a true benefit to the organization and it will be critical to us as we continue to make changes within the team to improve it.â€
Vernon joins Robert "Cap" Raeder from the Sharks organization to the revamped Lightning staff as co-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie continue to address the Bolts' highly publicized goaltending woes over the last several seasons. The St.Pete Times quoted Lightning head coach Barry Melrose as he provides some additional clues as to Vernon's role with the on-ice team. "Cap Raeder is a guy I depend on a lot for goaltenders. Heâ€™s the guy, I know what he can do and I think heâ€™ll be great working with Kolzig, Smith, and Ramo. Thatâ€™s the guy I know and trust as far as goaltenders are concerned. Mikeâ€™s role will be looked at as we go."
The Tampa Bay Lightning announced they will play five preseason games in 2008, including two at the St. Pete Times Forum. Highlights of the schedule include two games each against the 2007-08 Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers, as well as a match-up against Eisbaren Berlin in Berlin, Germany before the Lightning open the season in Prague, Czech Republic. Prices and the on-sale date for preseason games will be announced at a later time.
The Lightning will open the preseason at Mellon Arena against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Saturday, September 20 (7:30 p.m.), then the teams will travel to the St. Pete Times Forum for a re-match Monday, September 22 (7:30 p.m.). Tampa Bay will then host the first of a home-and-home set with the Rangers on Tuesday, September 23 (7:30 p.m.), before heading to Madison Square Garden on Thursday, September 25 (7 p.m.) in their final pre-season game in North America.
From New York, the Lightning will travel to Europe where they will play their final pre-season game against Eisbaren Berlin on Sunday, September 28 (time TBA).
(Pictured: Prospect Justin Keller vs. the Red Wings last exhibition season.)
Victoria Grizzlies General Manager Jackson Penney has informed Bolt Prospects that Lightning 2007 seventh round pick Justin Courtnall will return to the BCHL Grizzlies for another year.
Courtnall had been looking into attending an NCAA school in the fall, but those plans are on hold until the 2009-2010 season.
After starting slow last year with Victoria, Courtnall came on to finish with 19 goals and 32 assists for 51 points in 60 games - good enough for second on the club by just a point.
The winger played the previous season with Burnaby of the BCHL.
Courtnall's father, former NHLer Geoff Courtnall, is the head coach of Victoria. Lightning co-owner Len Barrie serves as the Grizzlies' president. (Times-Colonist photo)
TSN is reporting that the Tampa Bay Lightning have signed goaltender Mike Smith to a 2 year contract extension. Smith has one year left on his current contract, acquired from the Dallas Stars as part of the trade deadline blockbuster deal for Brad Richards.
Tampa Tribune Lightning beat writer Eric Erlendsson is reporting that Smith will make $2M for the 2009-2010 season increasing to $2.4M for the 2010-2011 season.
"It goes without saying that Mike has a bright future in the Lightning organization," Vice President of Hockey Operations Brian Lawton said. "It is important in our plan to have locked up Mike, along with Ollie (Kolzig), to solidify our goaltending situation this season and beyond."
While Lawton's statement confirmed Smith as a central cog in the future of the Lightning, his comments could be interpreted to imply that the Lightning might be interested in locking up Olaf Kolzig beyond the 2007-2008 season. If so, this would certainly cast some doubt on the future of goaltending prospect Karri Ramo within the organization.
According to EuroHockey.net, former Bolt Kyle Wanvig has signed with Amur Tigers Khabarovsk of the new KHL in Russia.
Wanvig played 11 games for the Lightning over the past two seasons, registering one goal and a minus-1 rating. He was AHL Norfolk's leading scorer last year with 23 goals and 56 points in 62 games. Wanvig has played 75 NHL games in his career, totaling 6 goals and 9 assists in limited duty.
The unrestricted free agent was acquired by the Lightning on February 1, 2007, from Atlanta with Stephen Baby for Andy Delmore and Andre Deveaux.
TSN is reporting the Lightning have agreed to terms on the re-signing of Vincent Lecavalier to an 11 year, $85 million dollar contract. New owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie have publicly stated their desire to make the franchise center a member of the organization for life, including a role with the team after his retirement.
In 710 career NHL games Lecavalier has 273 goals and 602 points, including 8 straight 20 goal seasons, 5 straight 30 goal seasons, and 2 straight 40 goal seasons. Consistency will get you about $7.73 million dollars a year, or so it seems.
The Tampa Tribune is reporting that the Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed center Chris Gratton to a one-year, $1.25M contract. With the number of off-season acquisitions made by the Lightning's new ownership group, there was much speculation that Gratton would not be returning. However, a serious knee injury to center Jeff Halpern at the World Championships increased the liklihood of Gratton's return.
â€œWe are extremely excited to have Chris back in the fold for next season,â€ vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton said. â€œHe is a true professional that fits in perfectly with our plan to be a tough team to play against. We look forward to having a healthy Chris Gratton on the ice next season.â€
With the Gratton signing, the Lightning currently have 16 forwards on one-way contracts.
Damian Crisdotero of the St. Pete Times is reporting on his blog that Jay Feaster has resigned as General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Feaster ends a run with the Lightning organization of nearly ten years which began with his hiring as Assistant GM under Jacques Demers in 1998 and over six years as General Manager following the firing of former GM Rick Dudley in 2002.
Feaster's two biggest deals in Tampa Bay involved one trade he did make, and even more importantly, one trade he never made. The former Hershey Bears GM made the pivotal deal with Columbus in 2004 to trade former first round pick Alex Svitov for defenseman Darryl Sydor, who solidified the Lightning blueline on the way to the franchise's first Stanley Cup. That Stanley Cup would not have been possible were it not for Feaster's steadfast resolve not to trade franchise player Vincent Lecavalier. Feaster's behind the scenes role as peacekeeper between Lecavalier and former Head Coach John Tortorella also helped to pave the way for two Southeast Division titles, a Stanley Cup, and four straight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances between the 2002-2003 and 2006-2007 seasons.
BoltProspects wishes Feaster, who has always been a gracious and forthright friend to this website, the best of luck in whatever future endeavors he pursues.
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.