Long time readers of the website know that the staff here at Bolt Prospects has a bit of a chequered past with that other hockey prospects website, Hockeysfuture. Without getting to deep into the specifics, after years of myself, Chad and Tim working the Lightning page on that website we as a group had a falling out with management over what seemed to us to be obvious bias in their decision making process against us and the Lightning's prospects. It wasn't something that happened overnight and we didn't leave all at once but eventually Tim had the idea to start a blog and we seized on it and started making plans. The rest, as they say, is history.
Long time readers of this website also know that we've never been afraid to call out Hockeysfuture for what we've seen as continuing bias in the product over at that website. One of the most obvious points of contention we had with HF was their refusal for almost two years to assign a writer to cover the Lightning's prospects. It wasn't until shortly after the Lightning internet community responded strongly to an incident in which a high ranking HF writer called prospects Blair Jones and Justin Keller trash and Bolt Prospects' subsequent smackdown of said writer that HF finally conceded and assigned longtime writer and all around standup guy Phil Laugher to cover the team's prospects. Laugher earned his street cred with the Lightning fan base when he apologized publicly to Lightning fans about a year prior when HF released a set of rankings that had NHL regular Paul Ranger 9th in the organization, soon-to-be NHL regular Nick Tarnasky 19th in the organization, and Keller and Russian superprospect Vasily Koshechkin out of the rankings altogether.
Under Laugher, it has been our website's opinion that the product on HF has improved by leaps and bounds. Considering he's been struggling upstream against an online editor who clearly has ulterior motives, their site has actually become tolerable over the last year. As such, we've had an unofficial truce with HockeysFuture over the past 14 or so months. Unfortunately, Phil didn't write the horribly divorced from reality draft review HF just put out for the Lightning, a piece so bad I got multiple e-mails from the Bolt Prospects staff within moments of their reading it. Considering their strong negative reaction to the article, I'm afraid we as a site have to respond.
Now, admittedly I have no idea who Elisa Hatch is. And let me just say ahead of time, it's not her fault Hockeysfuture's editors and management decided to put her in a difficult situation and its not her fault they offered her so little editorial support in the course of writing this article. Nearest as I can tell this is Hatch's first solo article at HF and unfortunately, without knowledgable editors who actually care about the subject matter, the quality of the work suffered.
Bottom line: several of the contentions of the article are diametrically opposed to the professional opinions of several reputable scouting outlets including the Lightning's scouting staff, THN, Red Line Report and the NHL Central Scouting Service. You don't have to take it from us that the article is flawed. Take it from those other professionals.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed defenseman Paul Ranger to a three-year contract, Executive Vice President & General Manager Jay Feaster announced. Ranger, 22, appeared in 72 games for the Lightning in 2006-07, recording four goals, 24 assists and 42 penalty minutes. He ranked third among Lightning defensemen in goals and points.
â€œPaul Ranger is a very good young hockey player who should only continue to develop and get better,â€ Feaster said. â€œHe has played some important minutes for us over the past two seasons and we expect he will be called on even more in the upcoming campaign. Now that he has become a regular NHL player, we look forward to him continuing to develop all aspects of his game, including contributing more to the team's offense. We are thrilled to have him under contract for the next three years.â€
This is a tough pill to swallow. For the first time in franchise history the team has lost a series where I really believed they were the better team.
Johan Holmqvist allowed 3 goals on 26 shots in the loss. He did allow a bit of a softie on the short side for Jersey's first goal, but he was good. After his horrible Game One performance, I think Johan did a lot to regain the confidence of the franchise going into an offseason where decisions need to be made concerning the netminder's job. Brad Richards had both Lightning goals on the power play. Filip Kuba had a pair of assists in the game to atone for accidentally knocking over Holmqvist after a Tim Taylor turnover that resulted in the game winning goal. Vaclav Prospal and Vincent Lecavalier also had assists.
Going into the offseason, I feel a lot better about the team's blueline than I did 3-4 months ago. Dan Boyle is one of the best defensemen in the league and Filip Kuba earned every penny of his free agent deal from this summer. I was impressed with how Shane O'Brien quickly factored into the mix and Paul Ranger will be approaching 250-300 pro games by the end of next season so he should start to really hit his comfort zone as a player. It will be difficult if not impossible to retain Cory Sarich and the team might do well to find a younger, more mobile replacement for Nolan Pratt. Now is the time for one of the Lightning's young defensive prospects like Matt Smaby or Vladimir Mihalik or Mike Egener to step up as a player.
In net, Holmqvist probably did enough in the playoffs to earn the starting job going into next season. Marc Denis' nearly $3M per year contract is unsustainable from a budget standpoint and he may be traded or even bought out before next season. That leaves young Karri Ramo in the Lightning's backup role and, mark my words, he could be a Calder contender next season.
I think the most amount of work for this team needs to be done up front this summer. Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis showed why they're paid premium dollars in this playoff series. The core is sound. The supporting cast, however, is horrible. There was no greater endictment of the Lightning's lack of offensive depth than the fact Andreas Karlsson spent all of today's game playing on the Lightning's second line and second power play unit. What do you do if you're the Lightning? That's got to be the biggest question of this offseason. They have some decent fourth line type pieces (Andre Roy, Nick Tarnasky, Evgeny Artyukhin) and some decent third line type pieces (Ryan Craig, Eric Perrin, Jason Ward should they retain him). The question is whether they can find a couple of more forwards with the skill to play on the scoring lines and possibly a natural third line center.
It's going to be an interesting offseason. If I was a young forward who hasn't fully established himself as a scorer in the league, I'd take a long hard look at Tampa. I have a feeling Lecavalier and Richards could make some young man a lot of money if they latch on here.
Game sheet from NHL.com.
The Lightning will take home ice back with them to Tampa for Game Three and Game Four.
Johan Holmqvist digs himself out of the considerable hole he excavated in Game One stopping 34 of 36 shots faced for the win. Character. It takes guts to fail that spectacularly in your playoff debut and then come back two nights later and shake it off. Brad Richards had 2 assists in the game with the Lightning getting goals from Filip Kuba, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Eric Perrin, Jason Ward, Paul Ranger and Vaclav Prospal added assists. Lecavalier and Holmqvist were named first and second stars of the game respectively.
What we learned from the first two games in New Jersey? If the Lightning get good goaltending (not even great goaltending) they will likely win this series. New Jersey cannot contain Lecavalier and St. Louis for 60 minutes. 30-40 minutes? Maybe. But they can't hold those two down for the full 60. Tonight it took Torts moving St. Louis onto Richards' line to get the two untracked, but sooner or later they're going to get theirs. And the Devils don't have anything near that reliable offensively. So, the way I see it, the Devils can only win one of two ways: Holmqvist and the Lightning goaltenders give the series away or Brodeur steals it. Otherwise, the Lightning skaters are better than the Devils'. Period.
Game sheet from NHL.com.