'7-10 guys': How many of the Admirals are ready for the NHL?

March 19, 2012; Tampa FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Pierre-Cedrick Labrie (76) shoots against the Buffalo Sabres during the second period at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Unless you've been under a rock somewhere, you should know already that the Norfolk Admirals, the Lightning's AHL affiliate, won the Calder Cup this weekend. They won in a decisive fashion, and there is strong reason to call this team the best team in AHL history. I mean, not only did they end the season with a winning streak that defied reason and shattered records for professional hockey, they won their last 10 playoff games as well. In fact, in 2011-2012, the Admirals played 94 games and won 70 of them.

Quite impressive. Which led to this quote from Admirals General Manager and Lightning Assistant General Manager Julien Brisebois:

"These guys did this at the highest level of competition outside the NHL," said Lightning assistant general manager Julien BriseBois. "The fact that these guys were able to execute and win at this pace, against this type of competition, shows that these guys are knocking on the door. If you look at past teams that have won this, anywhere from 7-10 players usually make it to the NHL and I think we'll be in that range, at least."

Hmmmmm..... Can this be right? Did we just see a team with 7-10 NHL-ready guys? Now, Brisebois didn't say those players would make the NHL this next season, but let's pretend he did. Is it possible for one-third of that roster to make the Lightning at the start of the 2012-13 season? Not as injury call-ups, mind you, but as legitimate NHL players?


There are really two questions here. First, which players might be ready? Second, is there both space and need for those particular players on the NHL club?

The guys for whom this is possible are (1) the guys who played in Tampa Bay in 2011-12 and (2) the standouts from Norfolk who didn't. And there are plenty of those guys. To see who's likely, though, I needed to find out what positions are open, who's under contract, and who's entering free agency this summer.

Naturally, there are exceptions to these categories. J.T. Wyman and Dana Tyrell played with the Admirals last season but stayed up once they got called up early in the season. J.T. Brown never played in the AHL but that might have been due as much to contract situations and "clear day" rules as it was because the team felt he was ready for the NHL. (Though, he certainly is making a case for himself). Brett Connolly was in a similar position. If he had been old enough, it's most likely he would have played in Norfolk, but sending him back to a losing junior team was not nearly as appealing.

I can identify fourteen players without much trouble who are possible candidates to make the opening day roster.

Norfolk players who played with the Lightning in '11-'12 :

Player (NHL games)

Contract Status

2012-13 Cap hit or
*Qualifying Offer amt.

Waiver status

Mike Angelidis (6)

UFA

525,000 (11-12)

Subject

Keith Aulie (76)

RFA

*577,500

Exempt

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (14)

Signed

525,000

Subject

Evan Oberg (7)

RFA

*826,875

Exempt

Brandon Segal (102)

UFA

525,000 (11-12)

Subject

Trevor Smith (23)

UFA

525,000 (11-12)

Subject

Dustin Tokarski (7)

Signed

672,222

Exempt

Norfolk standouts who did not play in Tampa Bay in '11-12:

Player (NHL games)

Contract Status

2012-13 Cap hit or
*Qualifying Offer amt.

Waiver status

Mark Barberio (0)

Signed

580,000

Exempt

Cory Conacher (0)

Signed

925,000

Exempt

Radko Gudas (0)

Signed

750,000

Exempt

Tyler Johnson (0)

Signed

900,000

Exempt

Alex Killorn (0)

Signed

875,000

Exempt

Richard Panik (0)

Signed

900,000

Exempt

Alexandre Picard (67)

UFA

600,000 (11-12)

Subject

[All contract, qualifying offer, and waiver status information are via capgeek.com. Number of NHL games via hockeydb.com.]

Under contract for 2012-13 the Lightning have 10 forwards, 4 defensemen, and one goalie. There are 49 contracts on the reserve list (current limit is 50). Included on this list are Mattias Ohlund, J.T. Brown, Brett Connolly, and Dana Tyrell. J.T. Wyman will be a UFA on July 1, as will Tim Wallace. That means that 7 forward spots, 4 defensemen spots and a goalie spot are in play.

I think we can take Tokarski off the list. Yzerman has already stated that he wants to trade for a goalie and that his second choice is a free agent. That makes Tokarski a third choice. While nothing is set in stone, all indications are that Tokarski is not likely to be on the roster at the beginning of the 2012-13 season.

So, are there 7 to 10 guys who make the opening day roster next season?

Forwards (7 spots):

Player

Needs contract?

Assessment

Notes

Brown

N

Training camp decision

Impressed in limited play in both the NHL and the World Championships (his ice time at the WC kept rising as the tournament went on) but he could still benefit from some time in the minors, much like Killorn has.

Connolly

N

Likely to play in AHL

Struggled most of the year in the NHL, but can now be sent to get seasoning in the minors.

Hall

Y

Possible re-sign

Older, becoming a specialist, may get squeezed out by younger players

Tyrell

N

Injured

Possible that Tyrell will start the season in the AHL as he gets back to speed from that knee injury.

Wallace

Y

Unlikely but possible re-sign

Waiver wire pickup w $700,000 cap hit in 2011-12, impressed sometimes but unclear how much the team will want to invest in him. He could get a better offer from someone else.

Wyman

Y

Likely re-sign

No reason not to sign a player who the coach trusted as much as Boucher trusted Wyman. Expect he'll be back in a Lightning uniform next season

Angelidis

Y

Likely re-sign

I expect him to start season in AHL, potential injury call up.

Conacher

N

Ready

Should be in TB to start the season

Johnson

N

Training camp decision

Johnson's a bulldog and is ready for NHL action, but he's been playing center, where there aren't any real openings; if he can make the switch to winger, he has a better opportunity

Labrie

N

Likely AHL; training camp decision

Labrie is a big, thumping fan favorite, but his place on the Lightning will be decided by how the team thinks about big, thumping forwards. Labrie wasn't trusted much by Boucher last season. Injury call-up

Killorn

N

Ready

Likely to be in TB to start the season

Panik

N

Not quite ready

Needs a bit more seasoning; likely to start in AHL; injury call-up.

Picard

Y

Likely re-sign; Training camp decision

Picard won the Playoffs MVP for the AHL this season and led the Admirals in scoring in the playoffs. He's 26, however, and late-bloomers don't always do well in the NHL. Waiver considerations will affect the decision.

Segal

Y

Likely re-sign; possible TB

Segal did well in Norfolk, especially in the playoffs, and had good numbers the few games he played in TB. Subject to waivers.

Smith

Y

Likely re-sign; likely AHL

Smith is a center and although he did alright in his games in TB last season, other, younger players did just as well.

Defensemen (4 spots):

Player

Needs contract?

Assessment

Notes

Aulie

Y

Likely re-sign; likely TB

Aulie struggled initially in TB but really shone in Norfolk; He should get more NHL time very soon.

Brett Clark

Y (UFA)

Unlikely re-sign

Younger players will push Clark out

Mike Commodore

Y (UFA)

Possible but unlikely re-sign

If he's brought back it's because the team can't find someone younger to do his job or because they think he'll adjust to the system better than he did in 2011-12.

Bruno Gervais

Y (UFA)

Possible re-sign

Offensive d-man. Struggled early in the season, but eventually seemed to get it.

Brian Lee

Y (RFA)

Meh

AHL. I expect they'll give him a QO, but he was unimpressive

Brendan Mikkelson

Y (RFA)

Possible re-sign

Offensive d-man very much in the mold of what Boucher likes. Sometimes invisible

Ohlund

N

Injured

I doubt he'll play

Barberio

N

Training camp decision, but failrly likely to be in TB

The team's assessment of Barberio's readiness will affect many other decisions.

Gudas

N

Training camp decision

I like Gudas, and think he's almost ready, but I wouldn't be surprised if he started out in the AHL getting a little more experience and working on consistency. Then again,...

Oberg

Y

Likely re-sign; training camp decision

Oberg fit in very well in Norfolk but Boucher never seemed to trust him. We'll have to see.

I've designated 4 forwards and 2 defensemen who I think have a legitimate shot to make the opening day roster (in italics above). I could easily add Gudas and Picard to that total as well. That's 8 guys. As always, your results may vary. What do you guys think? Do we see 7 to 10 Admirals in the NHL next season?

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