Goaltender Mike Smith, the Lightning's #1 goalie, ended up playing through the effects of Post Concussion Syndrome in December 2008, aggravated things in early January 2009, and has been recovering from this since February. This you know.
And now, with June only a matter of days away, we report Smith is still not skating. He's improving from what General Manager Brian Lawton stated publicly:
"... the last report on the medical side was there is no reason he won't be 100 percent, and he's 100 percent in all his normal activities in life and just starting to ramp up his training."
There is much context on the improvements are missing. Oh, for sure, he is not feeling the effects as much as before (which is good) but is he able to work out much at all? He's "just begining to ramp up his training" leaves a lot to wonder about.
With coach Rick Tocchet's plan for a strenuous training camp to make sure his team is in condition for the long and grueling season, one has to wonder if the Bolts have started to formulate a backup plan if Mike is not ready to go?
Karri Ramo -- who played admirably through his trial-by-fire in the latter part of the 2008-09 campaign -- is a Restricted Free Agent. Mike McKenna, who Rick Tocchet publicly called "a minor league goalie", is also an RFA... That leaves prospects Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokarski as the only signed goalies in the system at this point. Tokarski was playing in Juniors this past season while Helenius had stints in the ECHL, AHL and with the Lightning.
We've also noted that Edmonton Oil King's goalie Torrie Jung is Lightning property and Jung wowwed the CHL with his performance during the 1st round of the WHL playoffs. But again, he is unsigned and will go back into the draft if the Bolts do not sign him by June 1st.
In all three cases with Helenius, Tokarski and Jung, they are largely inexperienced at the NHL level. Of the five healthy goalies that the Lightning own the rights to, Ramo is the only one that could be looked at as experienced (with 48 NHL games under his belt in three seasons).
Suffice it to say, the Lightning are putting all their eggs in one basket if they solely hope that Smith is ready to go by the season start. They are also doing so if they let Jung go back into the draft in favor of Tokarski. Much like Major League Baseball and pitching, you can never have too much goaltending talent at your disposal.
There will be quite a few unrestricted free agent netminders in the off season, but who the Lightning will chase - or if, and how they will serve - is a big question. There's also been rumor speculation revolving around big names and big talents. Both in trade speculation and free agent speculation, you have to wonder what kind of message this sends to the rest of those on the depth chart... But it's a message that should be sent: that the starting goalie position is up for grabs as Smith proves he has recovered.
And competition for such a vital position as goaltender is a good thing. As was said earlier, you can never have too much goaltending talent in the system. It creates a pleasant complication that helps address other shortcomings of the team through the trade market later on down the road. The Bolts need to be wise and embrace this, rather than hoping that Smith suffers no setbacks and is 100 percent at the time Camp starts. It's too big a gamble, much like leaving the possibility of Smith's return during last season as open-ended. Why rush it?
Why risk it?