Submitted by pete on July 15, 2006 - 19:59
With today's signing of Eric Healey, Bolt Prospects' Chad Schnarr believes the Lightning have hit their 50-man contract limit presuming they re-sign all outstanding RFA's. With that in mind we can begin to speculate on the shape of the rosters of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Springfield Falcons and Johnstown Chiefs for the 2006-2007 season.
[b]2006-2007 Tampa Bay Lightning[/b]
[url=nick-tarnasky]Tarnasky[/url] or Alexeev/Taylor/Artyukhin
One of the interesting questions to be answered in Lightning camp will be whether or not Nikita Alexeev, who put up only modest numbers playing in a limited role for Avangard Omsk in the Russian Superleague last season, will really return to Tampa to claim a checking line job with the Lightning. Or, will one of the Lightning's hungry young prospects, most likely Nick Tarnasky, beat the former 2000 1st round pick out for a job? My money is on Tarnasky, for the record.
On defense, there are seven players on one-way contracts. Six appear to be locks. Will Delmore stick in Tampa? Or will last year's best AHL defenseman end up back in the minor leagues? Between 2001 and 2003 with the Nashville Predators, Delmore had 34 goals and 72 points in two seasons. There's no doubt Delmore can run a power play. There's also little doubt he isn't afraid to jump into the play. Has Andy Delmore grown up enough to take care of his own end at even strength? That is the question.
Between the pipes, the Lightning have $1.6M in extra baggage in the form of Sean Burke. No doubt, they will wait for injuries to set in around the league and then try to unload the veteran netminder for a low draft pick.
[b]2006-2007 Springfield Falcons[/b]
Alexeev or [url=nick-tarnasky]Tarnasky[/url]/Cavanaugh/[url=darren-reid]Reid[/url]
[url=mitch-fritz]Fritz[/url]/[url=justin-keller]Keller[/url] or [url=radek-smolenak]Smolenak[/url]
[url=Gerald-Coleman]Coleman[/url] or [url=jonathan-boutin]Boutin[/url]
In Springfield, Zdenek Blatny and Jason Jaspers appear to be out, Eric Healey and Eric Perrin appear to be in. Perrin is probably the best player of the four, so it may be a net gain for the Falcons. Norm Milley may be the lynchpin for this Falcons team, especially because of his heady work on the power play, but he will have to do without Ryan Vesce who was his center for much of last season.
The biggest key for the Falcons up front will be to get their rookies up to speed as soon as possible. This year will be a bumper crop for offensive talent in the Lightning system, but questions on how that talent will fit remain to be answered. Can Blair Jones handle a scoring line center job in the AHL at 19/20, or will Dan Cavanaugh have to step up from the checking line to take that job? Will either 2nd leading QMJHL scorer Stanislav Lascek or 5th leading WHL scorer Justin Keller be able to make an impact on a scoring line in their rookie pro campaign? Or will they be beaten out for a job by 2005 3rd round pick Radek Smolenak?
Most important of all, however, will be the performance of the Lightning's young goaltending prospects in Springfield. The Falcons will likely enjoy the experience of veteran AHLers Doug Janik, Doug O'Brien and Timo Helbling on defense as well as top draft picks Matt Smaby, Andy Rogers and Mike Egener, so the corps should be more solid than last season. That will especially be the case if AHL defenseman of the year Andy Delmore finds his way down to Springfield.
None of that will matter, however, if the Falcons don't see an improvement between the pipes. The Lightning are hoping Finnish sensation Karri Ramo has the same impact Bruins first round pick Hannu Toivonen did in his rookie season of North American pro hockey at 19/20 years old. If he doesn't, one of the second year pros, Gerald Coleman or Jonathan Boutin, will have to pick up the slack.
[b]2006-2007 Johnstown Chiefs[/b]
Here's where it gets a little more speculative. ECHL contracts are usually last to be signed, so knowing which players the Chiefs will bring under contract will be less certain. Presuming that the Lightning and Falcons rosters above are accurate, Johnstown would be receiving the following Lightning contract players: G Morgan Cey, G Gerald Coleman or G Jonathan Boutin, D Brady Greco, D Jay Rosehill, LW Brandon Elliot, LW Adam Henrich, LW Justin Keller or LW Radek Smolenak, C John Toffey, RW Andre Deveaux, RW Zbynek Hrdel. From the Falcons, D [url=pj-atherton]PJ Atherton[/url], RW Maxime Boisclair and RW Ryan Gibbons are already under contract and likely to be sent down to Johnstown.
The Chiefs made qualifying offers to eight players: G Josh Disher, D Doug Andress, D Jim Hakewill, D Jake Heller, D Brett Peterson, D Ben Wallace, LW Jean Desrochers and C Brad Thompson. Disher and one of the defensemen would likely be out if the Falcons send two goaltenders and two defensemen down to Johnstown. Andress' 37 point season in Johnstown may make him attractive to teams at the AHL level, or at the very least a prized commodity for ECHL teams. He will may be the most difficult of the five qualified defensemen to keep.
In addition, LW Randy Rowe, LW Joe Tallari, D Ian Manzano and LW Jason Spence have remained in Johnstown during the offseason, although rumor has Manzano looking for work elsewhere. RW Dimitri Tarabrin has been a loyal Chief for seven seasons. The RW, who turns 30 in August, will probably play in Johnstown, if anywhere.
Put all together this leaves 14 forwards and 7 defensemen vying for a limited number of slots in Johnstown. Tallari was on an AHL contract last season and, of the forwards, may have the easiest time finding a better paying job, presuming Rowe stays in Johnstown.
[url=justin-keller]Keller[/url] or [url=radek-smolenak]Smolenak[/url]/Desrochers/[url=zbynek-hrdel]Hrdel[/url]
[url=gerald-coleman]Coleman[/url] or [url=jonathan-boutin]Boutin[/url]
Despite losing Justin Kelly and possibly JB Bittner, Joe Tallari and Dimitri Tarabrin from last years roster under this scenario, Head Coach Frank Anzalone will still have an embarassment of talent up front, particularly with the Lightning prospects and Boisclair. Team speed will still be an issue however and if the Chiefs do indeed lose Andress they will need one of the other defensemen to step up and assume his puck moving role. No matter what happens, they should be competitive with two Lightning prospects again anchoring the club between the pipes.