Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey Club
401 Channelside Drive
Tampa, Florida 33602
Dear Jay Feaster --
It's been a couple of months since I talked to you directly about the future of the Tampa Bay Lightning... That was at the trade deadline where I implored you not to make a move that would put the Lightning's long term picture into murky territory if you made a move for a big name instead of planning for the long term.
Yet here we are, just a few months later and there is a rumor Jassen Cullimore will be brought back to Tampa to round out the defense, again shutting the door on the young players in Tampa Bay's system. Smaby, Rogers, Egener, Mahlik -- by selecting these players near the top of the last few drafts, you have committed the franchise to them. There are rumblings, however, that this isn't the case. Management doesn't seem comfortable with these players for one reason or another and more depth at defense has been brought in. Brad Lukowich was re-acquired in part because he knows the system and fills that depth need. And now there are rumblings that Jassen Cullimore - another former Lightning player that will it your "locker room chemistry" MO, will be brought in as defensiveman #6.
This isn't sullying Jassen Cullimore and what he has meant to the team in the past. This is, however, thinking both long term and present with the Bolts. The past the past and trying to re-capture the past through old roster members doesn't always work out in professional sports. The team needs to plan for the future and start addressing the future by giving other players the shot at the #6 defensiveman role. You do recall the 2005 pre-season, where John Tortorella was happy with no one as a 6th defensiveman, correct? Timo Helbing ended up making the roster for opening night, and yet in a matter of days Paul Ranger replaced Helbing in the lineup and shined with his opportunity.
You've voiced the desire to have the Lightning's defensive prospects play more minutes in Springfield instead of potentially riding the pine in Tampa... Just when are they supposed to get NHL experience though? How are they supposed to break into the league? Mid season in last-resort call-ups?
Jay, these players need exposure to the NHL game. Filling out the roster with seasoned veterans may be perceived as the clearest path for the 2007-08 season but what about beyond that? The focus cannot be on the immediate return at all times, it has got to be on both current and long-range planning. That's why I liked the Shane O'Brien acquisition and that's why I'm asking you to let the prospects and "depth addition" acquisitions get a shot at the role. Stunting and blocking the growth of the players you've invested time and patience in isn't the way to go about things unless you intend to move these players for other pieces of the puzzle.
When will the Lightning chose if their prospects are pieces of the puzzle? Deferring that moment to a later time clouds the franchises long term future and risks the team further depending on free agency instead of player development (which is an additional risk under the NHL's Salary cap system and the Lightning's self imposed budget).
Look to the future on defense, Jay, and let the chips fall where they may. Do not get caught looking to the past as if it will be the same as it once was. It won't. It almost never is.
P.s. Go Bolts!