The Tampa Bay Lightning and general manager Steve Yzerman have announced the recall of Byron Froese, sending Matthew Peca back to Syracuse. With only 10 healthy forwards on the roster, the Lightning used an emergency recall for Froese and ended Peca’s emergency recall. This is his first call up to the Lightning since being acquired in a trade deadline deal along with a second round pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs, for Brian Boyle.
Froese was playing in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies when he was acquired, and was assigned directly to the Syracuse Crunch. In two games for the Crunch, he’s had two goals and an assist. He has played 58 career NHL games, all with the Maple Leafs, and has five career points with two goals. He appeared in two of those games for the Maple Leafs earlier this season.
The recall of Froese begs the question — what is going on with the roster? It seems clear that it means none of the Lightning’s four injured centers are ready to return. For those who’ve lost track, those four are Steven Stamkos, who has been out since mid-November with a knee injury, along with Vladislav Namestnikov, Tyler Johnson, and Cedric Paquette, who were all injured during a game last Thursday against the Minnesota Wild. The Lightning have also lost two centers to trade in Boyle and Valtteri Filppula.
The Lightning’s forward lines have been pretty depleted. Players, both young and “older,” have come up from the minor leagues and played well enough, including Yanni Gourde, Adam Erne, Gabriel Dumont, and Matthew Peca. Not to mention young Brayden Point, who has been having a solid rookie season. However, the Lightning still lack some punch at the top end of the lineup.
The top line now consists of newest Triplet Point centering Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. Palat and Kucherov had continued to cruise along, and it’s hard to expect that to change with Point being more than capable of keeping up and contributing with both of them.
The second line is now center by Gourde with Alex Killorn and Jonathan Drouin on his wings. That line is a bit weak for a second line, even with Killorn and Drouin’s scoring history. Gourde is a career minor-leaguer and has played well enough since coming up, but there’s a reason he’s had very limited NHL time in his career.
The bottom six has been a mishmash of prospects with skill and grinders, plus defenseman Luke Witkowski mixing it up on the bottom line. The Lightning picked up Greg McKegg on waivers before the trade deadline to make sure they had enough bodies on the roster to fill out the team. That would be especially true if the Lightning fell out of the playoff race and wanted to return Erne and Dumont to Syracuse to help with the Crunch’s playoff push.
But it’s been clear that Jon Cooper hasn’t been very impressed by McKegg’s play. He’s also apparently had some issues with J.T. Brown, as he was a healthy scratch for two games in favor of Gourde. When the three centers went down against the Wild, it forced the Lightning to play McKegg and Brown again. By using Witkowski at forward, the team could also get by with just having these forwards on the roster.
The Lightning are only allowed four regular recalls after the trade deadline. They’ve already used those four recalls on Jake Dotchin, Gabriel Dumont, Adam Erne, and Yanni Gourde. With only 11 healthy forwards, including Froese, on the roster, one of the injured centers could return to the line up without having to return Froese to the AHL. The reassignment of Peca though indicates that it’s possible the Lightning will continue to use Witkowski at forward and would send Froese back instead of scratching McKegg, Brown, or Witkowski.
One possible benefit of playing Froese is that he is only 12 games away from 80 career games. He just turned 26 on Sunday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY!) and only has 58 career NHL games played. If he makes it to 80 career games by the end of the season, he’ll remain a restricted free agent and under the Lightning’s control for another season. If he doesn’t make it to 80 games, then he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.