An Open letter to Jay Feaster
Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey Club
401 Channelside Drive
Tampa, Florida 33602
Dear Mr. Feaster;
I'm writing to you today with concerns about both the current Tampa Bay Lightning season as well as the long term future of the Lightning franchise. While the Lightning are at a point where they are in contention for Lord Stanley's Cup, there is a large cause for concern about the long term implications of focusing on immediate contention and not addressing an area that has been and will continue to be a tender area for the Lightning after the 2006-07 season concludes.
Mr Feaster... Jay... The Lightning have a number of defensive prospects with zero NHL experience. The Lightning have a defensive core that has been shaky this season (and last) as well as unrestricted free agents after the season. Rumors have been around since last fall that you were shopping for a defensiveman from another team and I am left trying to understand why.
Jay, you have stated in the past that you prefer "the kids" playing every day in Springfield instead of potentially riding the pine here in Tampa Bay so they get more playing time. I understand that, I agree with it to an extent as well. Yet in this situation the Lightning are currently in -- where we have prospects that need to learn the NHL game and get acclimated to it, where the Lightning lack depth in experienced defensivemen and need to upgrade the staff, all while living life under the salary cap -- giving prospects such as Matt Smaby, Mike Egener or Andy Rogers a promotion to Tampa is a long term move that lets the players learn the NHL game while not throwing them to the wolves (a la Paul Ranger in 2005-06 who did a better-than-expected job when punched into the lineup).
Giving a prospect a shot and not forcing them into the lineup full time is not detrimental. Though waiting and waiting and waiting for the perfect trade, possibly involving one of these players or another core player, is. Is Mike Egener the future replacement of Cory Sarich when he leaves the Lightning after this season? Is Andy Rogers able to take Nolan Pratt's job immediately? Could Matt Smaby be a top four defensiveman? Now is a risky time to find out, but it's a better time to do it than next season in training camp when the Bolts are trying to fill holes with players they haven't seen perform at the NHL level before.
You may be skeptical when I bring up promoting prospects. You may say that the free agent market can fill voids better than promoting unproven prospects. Yet life under the salary cap is tight as you have learned. Not just tight but with Vinny Lecavalier's contract year next year, with prospect Egener's contract renewal coming up this offseason as well as Johan Holmqvist needing a long term deal, the Lightning are better off growing their own talent at current instead of picking NHL free agents.
Of course, these concerns do not address the lack of forward prospects in the Lightning system and I do believe the Bolts need to find a gritty winger (or a two way forward) to fill the void that has become glaringly apparent with the departure of Fredrik Modin. But at the same time -- this cannot be an elder NHL veteran. For the longterm, not short term, the Lightning need to look for a player who can be a mainstay on the roster for a few years. Not a rent-a-forward for a cup run this year.
Time and again we see teams throw everything they have into making a Stanley Cup run, raiding their system of both prospects, players and draft picks for cogs that will only propel the franchise for a few months or less, who are older and more experienced but who aren't long term fixes for problems.
In closing, Jay, don't sell the franchise out long term for a Cup run. Don't make your job harder in balancing the salary cap by going for more than the Lightning can afford (both immediately and long term). Plan for the future as well as the now. Take a chance with commodities the Lightning system has at your disposal instead of risking the long term with a quick fix. Yes the point of an NHL season is to win the Stanley Cup, but the point of a business is long term stability and viability. Even if your goals are short term, please keep a firm eye on the long term effects.
P.s. Go Bolts!