Sunday, July 20, 2008

This ain't your daddy's Lightning.

Just when you thought the Lightning had packed it in for the decade, they show why they're able to consistently rise to the top of the Southeast Division. With appealing new owners calling some pretty aggressive shots, no front office has been busier than Tampa's. Take a deep breath and look at all the movement so far as we approach the middle of July:

Oren Koules and Len Barrie, owners
Barry Melrose, Head Coach
Rick Tocchet, Wes Walz, and Cap Raeder, ass't coaches
Brian Lawton, VP of Hockey Operations (GM)
Tom Kurvers, ass't GM
Jim Hammet, dir of player personnel
Greg Malone, head pro scout
Mike Vernon, special ass't to GM/goalie mentor
C Steve Stamkos (#1 overall pick)
C Wyatt Smith (1 year)
C Zenon Konopka (2 years)
C/LW Vaclav Prospal (multi-year)
LW David Koci (1 year)
LW Gary Roberts (1 year)
RW Ryan Malone (7 years)
RW Radim Vrbata (3 years)
RW Adam Hall (3 years)
RW Mark Recchi (1 year)
RW Brandon Bochenski (2 years)
RW Matias Sointu (7th rd pick)
D Matt Carle
D Ty Wishart
D Andrew Hutchinson (2 years)
D Janne Niskala (1 year)
D Scott Jackson (3 years)
D Kevin Quick (multi-year)
D Mark Babiero (6th rd pick)
D Luke Witkowski (6th rd pick)
D David Carle (7th rd pick... yes, Matt's brother. What a coincidence!)
G Olie Kolzig (1 year)
G Dustin Tokarski (5th rd pick)
'08 4th Round pick (from SJ, turned out to be C James Wright)
'08 5th Round pick (from SJ, turned out to be RW Kyle DeCoste)
'09 1st Round pick (from SJ)
'09 3rd Round pick (from SJ)
'10 4th Round pick (from SJ)

C Vincent Lecavalier (11 years)
C Ryan Craig (2 years)
C Chris Gratton (1 year)
RW Evgeny Artyukhin (multi-year)
D Alexandre Picard (multi-year)
G Mike Smith (2 years)

Jay Feaster, GM
John Tortorella, head coach
Bill Barber, Dir of Player Personnel
D Dan Boyle
D Brad Lukowich
G Marc Denis
'08 3rd Round pick
'08 7th Round pick (from NAS, turned out to be G Joacim Eriksson)
'09 4th Round pick
'09 6th Round pick
'09 conditional pick
'09 or '10 conditional pick (MIN's choice)

Dizzying, isn't it? The overhaul is so thorough that we can safely discard the Lightning's '07-'08 season as any kind of indicator of their fortunes for the upcoming season. They'll be a fundamentally different team, and not a bad one at that.

The real genius in this plan, though, is that they're not sacrificing the future in order to sell tickets in the present. Of the list of draft picks they gave up, it doesn't appear the Lightning will lose a major future player. Losing Brad Boyle hurts a bit, but San Jose's first-round pick might ease the pain. And most importantly, the signing of castaways like Recchi and Roberts will only be significant for this year -- the Lightning did very well in signing surefire contributors like Lecavalier and Malone to longer contracts while limiting the tenure of declining players.

What does it all mean? It means the Lightning are now stable in goal, fairly deep at all forward positions, and loaded with grit... pretty much everything they weren't last season. This is a playoff-quality roster, which means more money in hand for the owners -- and more commitment by fans and sponsors to stick with a team which suddenly has a pretty rosy long-term outlook. There will be a bit of turnover as the short-term contracts expire and prospects rise through the ranks (though the Lightning are known for having a weak farm system). But by the time Stamkos arrives as a 22-year-old superstar and Mike Smith becomes an All-Star fixture, the Lightning will likely have maneuvered their way into "contender" status for the long-term. It's a page right out of the Detroit Red Wings Guide to Winning Every Year.

The biggest risk, of course, is that guy Melrose...

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