Submitted by pete on September 25, 2006 - 20:28
Phil Laugher [url=http://hockeysfuture.com/article.php?sid=9085]stubs his toe[/url], in my opinion.
To summarize, Laugher comes to the conclusion that the Falcons are doomed to fail this season because of a lack of experience. However, there are several holes in his argument and omissions from his projected roster that undermine his thesis. Looking at the defensive corps, he completely leaves Doug Janik and Andy Delmore out of the discussion, which is a mistake. Once Paul Ranger's foot heals within the next 1-3 weeks, one of these two defensemen will be sent down to Springfield, barring another injury. Delmore, who was the AHL's Defenseman of the Year last season, has a one-way contract and is the more likely to stay in Tampa, thus making Janik a likely Falcon who isn't even mentioned in the article. That means the Falcons will have a strong veteran core in the form of Janik, Sylvain Dufresne and [url=doug-obrien]Doug O'Brien[/url] to go along with [url=mike-egener]Mike Egener[/url], who is entering his third pro season, and two of the most touted prospects in the organization in [url=matt-smaby]Matt Smaby[/url] and [url=andy-rogers]Andy Rogers[/url].
Someone also might want to mention that Timo Helbling didn't return to Europe but rather signed a deal with the Caps organization and [url=http://www.hersheypa.com/events/hershey_bears/team/player_detail.php?id=181]will be playing for the Hershey Bears this season.[/url]
At forward, Laugher correctly points out the Falcons have assembled a solid amount of veteran scoring depth even with his omission of Eric Healey from his article. An analysis of the roster tells us that Zdenek Blatny, [url=marek-kvapil]Marek Kvapil[/url], Eric Healey, [url=blair-jones]Blair Jones[/url], Dan Cavanaugh, David Spina (also not mentioned in the article) and [url=mitch-fritz]Mitch Fritz[/url] look like locks to comprise 7 of the team's 11 every night forward spots. Once the competition in Tampa is resolved, two out of the group of three competing forwards in [url=nick-tarnasky]Nick Tarnasky[/url], Eric Perrin and [url=norm-milley]Norm Milley[/url] will also be on the team, leaving just two open spots on the team, one of which could very well be won by second year pro [url=zbynek-hrdel]Zbynek Hrdel[/url]. At most the Lightning will have just three rookie forwards on the team and many of the names Laugher mentions are almost certainly destined for Johnstown of the ECHL.
In goal, yes, rookie [url=karri-ramo]Karri Ramo[/url] will likely be counted on heavily to shore up what was a weakness last season. But it should be mentioned that Ramo is no ordinary rookie. He has over three dozen starts at the SM-liiga level already on his resume between the Lahti Pelicans and HPK over the last two seasons including playoff experience during HPK's championship run in Finland last season. To put it into greater perspective, Hannu Toivonen had 35 appearances in the SM-liiga for HPK before coming to North America for the Providence Bruins and posting a .921 save percentage and 2.30 GAA at the same point in his career. Ramo, by comparison, has 53 SM-liiga appearances.
In my view, the Falcons' season isn't doomed on arrival because of inexperience. At most the team will have 5 or 6 rookies. Last year's Calder Cup winning Hershey team had 4 rookies. Their finals opponents, the Milwaukee Admirals, had 5.
The Falcons season will turn, just as it did last season, on injuries, callups and whether or not there is enough quality depth in the organization in Johnstown to deal with it this year. It's easy to forget that the Falcons had a team that was well over .500 last year in December before the cumulative callups of Paul Ranger, Evgeny Artyukhin, Ryan Craig and later Norm Milley began to take their toll. Those callups, coupled with a rash of injuries and Anders Eriksson's defection to Russia from his PTO with the Falcons became too much for the team to cope with.
In my opinion, the Lightning have built up enough forward depth to handle almost anything that gets thrown the Falcons' way this season and I am confident that Karri Ramo is capable of shoring up the team's goaltending. Are John Adams, [url=pj-atherton]PJ Atherton[/url] and [url=jay-rosehill]Jay Rosehill[/url] enough quality depth to deal with any unforeseen problems on the blueline? I am less convinced.
But, on the whole, with a far better head coach and an obviously improved talent level, is it fair to predict "another difficult year?" I don't think so.