As some of you may have noticed, we have a new poll here asking who amounts to the biggest off-season acquisition for the Bolts?
I added two names that were brought in specifically for depth -- Lampman and Jancevski who both have a shot at the #6 D-man role. The poll race truly should be between four players and the roles they may or may not be playing with the Lightning this year:
Center Chris Gratton: Welcome back Grats. I'm still a little miffed that we gave up a 2nd to get Chris back in the fold but he's an upgrade to Tim Taylor in that he's younger, he's willing to do more, he's got a reputation for scoring somewhere near 40 points a season -- which is much more than Taylor chips in -- and has leadership abilities (though he will not be wearing the A or C while Vinny, Marty and Brad are around or Tim for that matter). I know I vented because this is Gratton's third tenure with the team and he's played the journeyman roll in the league since his last appearance in a Lightning uniform (Buffalo, Colorado, Phoenix, Florida with the Flyers having been his 2nd team after his initial spell with the Bolts)... yet I couldn't help feeling like this is where Chris is supposed to be after seeing him at the jersey unveiling and reading some of his quotes regarding the turnout for Ice Fest. He was part of the 1996 first-playoff team but you realize what he's missed out on in TB? The ascent of the franchise from dismal or also-ran status (even in 1996 where the team was competitive) to the Cup championship team. Hockey's not so new here any more, Chris, nor taken as a novelty... Welcome to HockeyBay. Gratton will likely helm the third line while chipping in on special teams...
Oh, and Bruce? The insinuation he is capable of replacing Brad Richards remains ridiculous.
Defensiveman Brad Lukowich: For all the hell that Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist have gotten for quality-of-play last season, I found (more times than not) lackluster play in front of them from lower defensive lines to be as much of a problem as keeping the puck out of the net. Note Holmqvist's 9-1 shootout record and how he plays one-on-one... Then complicate that picture by throwing 2 guys who are supposed to be helping him and extra attackers in front of him and you see Johan as merely a passable goalie and a highly questionable #1. Why is that the case? Answer: Because Corey Sarich is not a poke-check artist and Nolan Pratt is a 7th defensiveman playing on the third pairing. Oh sure, Boyle, Kuba, Ranger, Janik, Richardson and O'Brien can receive blame and get crap thrown at them too for dropping the ball at times too. But the point is that adding Brad Lukowich back to the mix brings in stability, experience and shot-blocking expertise to the blueline. This will likely help relieve some pressure on the goalies which could make a very big difference in the team's record. But that remains to be seen.
LW Jan Hlavac: You see those skates that Jan is scheduled to wear on ice this season? They once belonged to Fredrik Modin. How's THAT for high hopes and expectations? The hope is that Jan plays the role of power-forward next to Brad Richards and contributes... But for a player who has been out of the NHL for the last two seasons (three if you include the lockout 2004-05 season), that's a mighty tall order.
RW Michel Ouellet: Is the Bradmaster's magic with Michel still possible? Will Hlavac click as well and give the Lightning a two line offensive threat again? You can read the recent Rimouski Risk post and see some of the ups and downs of Michel, but the promise is there -- even if the correct spelling of his last name is not.
I don't mean to seem like I am writing off the possible contribution from Jancevski and Lampman on the D by not profiling them as potential #6 defensivemen, but the truth is I know little to nothing about each player. The other truth is the #6 defensive opening can lead to a shocking introduction to the NHL for a rookie or minor leaguer (and I say this in a good way). You only need to look back at Paul Ranger joining the Lightning in 2005-06 as a second-guess #6 D-man and what ended up happening with that choice. Ranger is a mainstay now and you couldn't dream of him not being on the blueline in Tampa. Jancevski, Lampman, Doug Janik, Matt Smaby, Vladmir Malhik and others will get their shot at that role and we can only hope they make the best of it.