The KHL's regular season came to a close Sunday, the NCAA is in the midst of its conference playoffs, and Canadian junior regular seasons will be closing next weekend. So, it's getting close to signing season, and I figured I'd post a little on the blog about some of the players who will potentially be joining the organization in the coming weeks and months. Before I do, though, I wanted to quickly address the new ownership situation.
There was a little pearl in Erik Erlendsson's blog post about Dustin Tokarski being returned to Norfolk and Riku Helenius being assigned to Sodertalje of the Elitserien. The Lightning are apparently intersted in once again making an attempt to sign Russian star goaltender Vasily Koshechkin, who is currently playing for Magnitogorsk in the KHL. Koshechkin, a mammoth 6'6" netminder who was an 8th round pick in 2002, has 14 shutouts over the past two seasons, and arguably has been the best netminder in Russia over the past four seasons. The Lightning made multiple attempts to sign Koshechkin when Jay Feaster was the team's GM, but Koshechkin always chose to remain in Russia. Will Koshechkin, who turns 27 in March, now try his hand at the best hockey league in the world?
The post also mentions the possibility of Karri Ramo returning from Omsk of the KHL as well. Ramo has one more year remaining on his deal with Avangard, but he has an NHL out clause for a signing window this summer. It is believed Koshechkin will be a free agent this summer after he signed with Magnitogorsk earlier this year when his original deal with his longtime club Togliatti was voided after Lada couldn't meet payroll on multiple occassions.
Late tonight, after the conclusion of the Admirals' game against the Adirondack Phantoms, the Lightning and GM Brian Lawton announced that Head Coach Darren Rumble has been relieved of his duties. Assistant Coach Jim Johnson has been named the new Head Coach and Assistant Coach Leigh Mendelson will remain with the team. Rumble departs the Admirals, officially, with a 50-61-6-5 record in one and a half seasons with the team, although he unofficially assumed the role of Head Coach midway through the 2007-2008 season. Norfolk is currently 17-23-2 this season, which is last place in the AHL's East Division and six points out of a playoff spot.
In my mind, two things contributed to Brian Lawton's decision to make a move. First, although the Lightning have promoted several players to Tampa Bay this season, Norfolk returned a very deep roster dotted with numerous NHL and AHL veterans. While it may not have been fair to expect this team to be competing with Hershey for the division title, this roster probably should be in the thick of the pack in the East Division fighting for second or third, not in last place. The second factor is that, although some prospects like Blair Jones and Dustin Tokarski are having excellent seasons, some of the Lightning's most prized prospects have struggled, namely Matt Lashoff and Dana Tyrell.
GoErie.com reported Thursday Lightning prospect Jaroslav Janus of the Erie Otters has signed with Tampa Bay. The report states it's a two-way contract, and will end the young goaltender's junior career.
Update: The Lightning have confirmed the signing, saying it's a standard three-year deal, and Janus has been assigned to Norfolk.
Dustin Tokarski and Riku Helenius have been splitting No.1 duties in Norfolk, but after Lightning goaltender Antero Niittymaki missed a game last week, Tampa Bay recalled Helenius and Norfolk was forced to sign a goaltender for just a two days to fill the second slot with the Ads.
Update 2: Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports Tokarski and Janus will get the majority of the work in Norfolk with Helenius waiting his turn. Erlendsson spoke with Lightning/Admirals GM Brian Lawton Saturday.
Janus, a sixth round pick of the Bolts this past summer, went 7-4-2-0 with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage with Erie after returning to the team in November from a long amateur tryout with the Admirals. He made two starts in Norfolk, allowing three goals.
The Norfolk Admirals announced today that they have signed former NHL All-Star forward Mark Parrish to a Professional Tryout Contract (PTO). In addition, the Admirals announced that they have released forward Travis Whitehead from his Amateur Tryout Contract (ATO).
Parrish, 32, is a 5-foot-11, 200-pound veteran of ten National Hockey League seasons. He has appeared in 704 career NHL games between the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars, recording 216 goals and 169 assists in those games. Parrish, who appeared in the 2002 NHL All-Star Game, was originally a third round draft pick (79th overall) of the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.
Parrish appeared in 44 NHL games last season with the Stars, recording eight goals and five assists. He also appeared in three games with the American Hockey Leagueâ€™s Bridgeport Sound Tigers and netted one goal and one assist in those games. Parrish has only appeared in six career AHL games between the Sound Tigers and the Beast of New Haven, scoring three goals and one assist.
Whitehead did not appear in any games with the Admirals. The professional rookie completed his collegiate career at Buffalo State University last season.
The Admirals open the home portion of their season this Friday and Saturday against the Manchester Monarchs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning's 2009 6th round pick Jaroslav Janus has made the Norfolk Admirals season opening roster as the team's third goaltender. Janus, still without an NHL entry-level contract, has been retained by the Admirals on a Professional Tryout contract. Janus has drawn praise from Lightning GM Brian Lawton as having had a strong training camp, and there have been reports Janus' agent has been contacted about a contract. Janus joins fellow Bolt netminding prospects Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokarski battling to establish themselves as the Admirals go-to-guy in the nets for the 2009-10 season. It is still possible for the Lightning to reassign Janus to his OHL junior team in Erie, but that option is looking less and less likely. Janus led the Slovakian World Junior team to a medal-round finish last year.
On the eve of the Tampa Bay Lightning 2009-10 season opener in Atlanta Saturday night, General Manager Brian Lawton continues his contract-happy week by inking 2009 1st round draft pick Carter Ashton to a three-year entry level contract. Following a strong training camp, Ashton was returned to his WHL junior team in Lethbridge last weekend, and is expected to play the balance of the 2009-10 season with the Hurricanes.
Lawton also signed former NHL All-Star Adam Oates to a contract as a Lightning assistant coach under Rick Tocchet. Oates, widely regarded as one of the all-time best set up players, has been working with the Lightning coaching staff and team during training camp as an unpaid assistant and and advisor. During the exhibition season, under Oates' guidance, the Lightning power play has shown marked improvement over last season featuring a top unit comprised of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, and Kurtis Foster.
Lawton may not be done with his signing spree following Thursday's signing of Mitch Fritz and today's inkings, as 2009 6th round pick Jaroslav Janus is rumored to be the next target of Lawton's pen. Lawton has stated that Janus had a strong training camp and is trying to get an entry-level deal done with his agent. Meanwhile the Slovakian netminder has not been returned to his OHL junior team in Erie and continues to practice with the Norfolk Admirals squad as an unsigned player.
Fritz, 29, spent three seasons as an enforcer in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization from 2004-07, playing 174 games and racking up 435 penalty minutes during three seasons for the Springfield Falcons. Last season, the 6'8" and 258 lbs. left winger played 20 games for the New York Islanders and 36 additional games for their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.
During his tenure in the Lightning organization at Springfield, Fritz was the recipient of the AHL's Yannick Dupre Memorial award for the 2005-06 season as the AHL Man of the Year for his community involvement work in Springfield, MA. Fritz was traded to the New York Rangers by the Lightning in July 2007 for Bryce Lampman and played just 11 games in an injury shortened season for the Ranger's AHL affiliate in Hartford.
The Tampa Bay Lightning has tweeted that they have signed prospect forward James Wright to a three-year entry level contract. Wright has been the surprise of the 2009 Lightning training, flying virtually under the radar after missing the prospect's camp with a groin pull. His play throughout camp and exhibition play has drawn praise from both GM Brian Lawton and head coach Rick Tocchet. Wright's entry level contract is a strong indicator that the Lightning likely intends to carry Wright on the team's NHL roster for upwards of 9 regular season games before making a decision to return him to his WHL junior squad in Vancouver. Wright doesn't turn 20 until March 2010, so an AHL assignment in Norfolk is not an option for the 2008 4th round pick.
Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune is reporting that the Tampa Bay Lightning have inked prospect forward Radek Smolenak to a one year contract pending the receipt of a document from the KHL indicating his freedom from any contractual obligations. The gritty Czech winger, dubbed with the nickname "Smoke", signed a contract with a KHL team for the 2009-10 season back in May after his three-year entry-level contract with the Lightning had expired. However, Smolenak was recently cut from his KHL team during its exhibition season reportedly due to the team's limited number of import player roster slots. Tampa had retained Smolenak's NHL rights in June by filing a qualifying offer to the player. It seemed a contract was imminent when Smolenak's name appeared on the Lightning's 2009 training camp roster on Wednesday.
Stay tuned for more details as this story develops.