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Lightning Round: Why do we love rookies so much?

The Crunch won, another coach got fired, and we debate if Cal Foote is ready

Scott Thomas Photography

It’s always interesting to see which posts spark discussion around here. We as editors can look at a piece and think it’s great and it goes nowhere. Sometimes we throw something together in roughly five minutes and it’s the most popular post of the month. One thing we do usually know is that when we post something about a trade or a suspension, people will have opinions.

That’s why it was nice to see Geo’s post about Cal Foote garner a lot of comments (well for us) here and over on our Facebook page. In a year where it seems the Lightning have called up more rookies in a season than at any time since the great TampaCuse invasion of 2012-13, it was logical to ponder if Cal Foote might join some of his Syracuse teammates in Tampa this season.

What surprised me most was the amount of folks who were 100% behind the idea. Please keep in mind that Foote is a 20-year-old defenseman with just over 100 games of professional experience under his belt. Yes, he was a first round draft pick, but is he ready to be thrown up against the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Laine, and Brad Marchand’s merry brand of mischief?

It was the same enthusiasm that welcomed Alex Volkov and Mitchell Stephen’s debut’s this season and surrounded training camp with the idea that Dominik Masin or Alex Barre-Boulet may make the Lightning. What is it about rookies and young players that we find so damn exciting?

Personally I think it’s two things, the unknown and the potential for greatness. Rookies in the NHL are a blank slate. They can be anything we project them to be because we haven’t seen them do anything that would lead us to believe that they can’t be great.

This isn’t just Lightning fans, or even hockey fans. This desire to go with the unknown and potentially great over the known and obviously mediocre is prevalent in all sports. After all, isn’t the back-up quarterback usually the most popular guy to talk about when a football team is struggling?

If the Lightning need to fill a spot on the blue line it might make more sense to recall a player like Cameron Gaunce or Luke Witkowski (yes he’s back to playing defense in Syracuse). They have NHL experience, they know how the game works and coaches can count on them to perform at least as well as they have in the past.

There’s nothing sexy about calling up Cameron Gaunce. We know what he’s going to do and it’s probably not provide a Norris-level performance. Giving Cal Foote a shot on the other hand - now that’s exciting. Maybe he is the next Nicklas Lidstrom and will look like he born to take on NHL competition. After all, Erik Cernak did the same thing, well not quite at a Lidstom-level, just last year. So why not Foote?

Unfortunately, teams rarely succeed when they do things that are fun for the fans. Fun, fire wagon hockey is tamped down by coaches that stress keeping the puck out of their net over putting it into the opponent’s net. Dominik Hasek style acrobatic goaltending has given way to robotic positional netminding. Heck, coaches have even found away to dull down three-on-three overtime.

In the same vein calling up rookies just to see how they may do, or if they can “light a fire” under a team that isn’t really struggling that bad just doesn’t happen in today’s NHL, at least not for a team that’s contending. Let’s face it, for all the doom and gloom we’ve shared over the first two and a half months of the season, the Lightning aren’t in that bad of a spot. They are a couple of wins out of a playoff spot with multiple games in hand. Their style of play over recent weeks has improved and it looks like they are starting to get some of the breaks they were missing earlier in the season.

Even the Foote discussion revolves around who would be the best fit for the sixth defender on the team, a player who might see 13 minutes of ice time a night if he’s lucky. It’s not like Tampa Bay is struggling to the point where the season is lost and it’s time to phase out the veterans in lieu of the rookies. The Lightning are still one of the better teams in the league, especially in an Atlantic Division that is a bit of a train wreck right now.

Ever since Steve Yzerman and Julien BriseBois took over the development of this organization, the promotion of young players has been a steady process. The Lightning aren’t going to rush any of their prospects unless they’re forced to (as was the case with Brayden Point and Cernak). I don’t expect that to change just because Luke Schenn and Jan Rutta are struggling.

Foote is more than likely going to be an excellent NHL defender at some point, but rushing him before he’s ready doesn’t do much for his development. There are still enough things that he needs to improve and doing that in Syracuse for 20 minutes a night is way more beneficial than doing it in a press box in Tampa.

That goes for all of the prospects in the organization and is the reason Cory Conacher has been a boomerang for the last two weeks. He is in that perfect part of his career for the organization - old enough to have developed as a player, but not at the point where his skills are diminished. His development isn’t going to be hurt by missing a game or two.

So, while it would be fun and intriguing to see Foote, or Taylor Raddysh, or Barre-Boulet in a NHL game this season, it isn’t likely to happen. While fans and the players themselves might not agree, it is the best thing for the organization and the development of those players.





(Watch the Lightning call up Foote two hours after this posts)

The Organization

The Syracuse Crunch kicked off their four-game/eight-day road trip with a nice 4-1 win against the Providence Bruins. Gemel Smith had a hat trick (abetted by two empty-net goals, but they don’t ask how, they ask how many) and Spencer Martin stopped 26-of-27 shots. Rookie Peter Abbadonato added a goal as well. [Syracuse Crunch]

Geo makes a solid case for Cal Foote to join the Lightning defense. Yes, it’s the post that sparked the intro piece above. [Raw Charge]

The boss penned a day after look at the win against the Panthers where he highlighted three important stats from the game. Yes, Andrei Vasilevskiy being awesome was one of them. [Raw Charge]

Lightning Player of the Week according to the Lightning - Victor Hedman! Personally I would have gone with Vasilevskiy, but 3 goals and 2 assists from a blueliner is pretty good. []

The Lightning are playing better and may be catching the Boston Bruins at a good time. The Atlantic Division leaders lost last night to the Washington Capitals and are riding a four-game losing streak overall. [Stanley Cup of Chowder]

The League

Another NHL coach is out of a job. The San Jose Sharks relieved head coach Peter DeBoer and his coaching staff of their duties Tuesday night. The Sharks are 15-16-2 on the season and just finished an 0-3-0-1 road trip that included a 7-1 loss to the Lightning. Former Panthers head coach Bob Boughner will serve as the interim head coach. [Fear the Fin]

As folks on Twitter (including Dimitri Filipovic) have pointed out, five NHL coaches have been relieved of their positions since the Detroit Red Wings last won a game. Their last win came on November 12th against Anaheim (4-3 in OT). Since then Mike Babcock, John Hynes, Bill Peters, Jim Montgomery and DeBoer have been fired or resigned. [Twitter]

A nice use of the expected goals stats to see who in the NHL might be in line for a little cooling off period and who might be in line to break out offensively. There are no Lightning players on either list which is good, I guess. [ESPN]

Ken Campbell isn’t happy (is he ever happy?) about the NHL’s approach to international hockey under the Gary Bettman regime. [The Hockey News]

Happy Birthday!

If today is your birthday, well Happy Birthday from Raw Charge! You share your special day with current member of the Crunch Danick Martel. The left-winger turns 25 today and has appeared in 9 games with the Lightning last season after being claimed on waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers. In 22 games with the Syracuse Crunch this season he has 10 goals (all scored from about 3 feet away or closer) and 2 assists.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images