Raised expectations breeding defensive doubts for Lightning
The perceived boogeyman for the Lightning, at this moment, is on the blueline. It's a raving mess of inexperience, overage, inconsistency, etc, etc, etc.
And the worst crime at all is, there is no sexy big-name acquisition to compliment the Simon Gagne move! Ugh! Steve Yzerman needs to get to work to remedy that situation, STAT!
...That, or fans need to lower expectations a little and let things work themselves out.
The Lightning depth chart on defense is deep enough not to be a cause for concern. Besides the likes of Mattias Ohlund, Pavel Kubina, Victor Hedman, Mike Lundin, Brett Clark and Matt Smaby as a top six, there is Matt Lashoff, Vladmir Mihalik, Ty Wishart, Scott Jackson, and other young players ready to push for a roster spot and playing time.
Of course, this does not ease concern of competence on defense.
Last season, the defensive effort routinely resembled that of the Keystone Kops - players falling over each other and a lack of jelling, cohesion, and synchronization on coverage. It highlighted flaws to whatever the plan was on defense, which were then exploited by opposing teams. There were mental lapses and miscues. Occasionally, the lax defensive effort left goaltenders Mike Smith and Antero Niittymaki fending for themselves. All of this cost the team dearly in the end.
But one little issue here that is not getting much attention is the coaching aspect of last season's squad and the forthcoming 2010-11 team. While Rick Tocchet and Rick Wilson were in charge behind the bench last season and responsible for the defensive effort - there had never been a moment where either coach had praise heaped upon them for improvements to the defensive game.
Enter Guy Boucher and his band of merry men from the Hamilton Bulldogs that will be in control for the Lightning from this point forward. This isn't a unit put together by feuding GM and head coach that have different ideas for the team, this is a group of guys who have worked together and know the system they are going to employ.
This is a group that's already been part of the process remaking the team, who had a say when the Bolts signed Pavel Kubina and Brett Clark. They're a coaching staff with a successful history on their side.
That's not to say Rick Wilson, as defense specialist for the Lightning, hadn't a history of success as an assistant on the Dallas Stars before he was hired last season. Unfortunately, he found himself in the midst of a proverbial minefield when he joined the Tampa Bay staff: A rookie coach, a rookie GM, a mix-and-match defense...
And in the end, no clear system employed. "Just go out there and stop guys" seemed to be the instruction from the powers-that-be.
What does this all have to do with the current defensive depth for the Bolts? I want to see the unit under Boucher's rule before I want the Lightning to go out and try to revamp the defense again. I'm not sold on trying to acquire a big-name defenseman, like Tomas Kaberle from the Toronto Maple Leafs, in order to beef up the name recognition on defense. Kaberle's name has come up a few times in the past year as someone potentially linked to the Lightning as an answer on defense.
Why the need for a big ticket acquisition like that in the first place?
Yes, the Lightning did lose a cog when it traded Matt Walker to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Simon Gagne trade. While we've played up how much of a robbery that deal was, the fact is that the steady stay-at-home defenseman in "Tex" Walker, with a right-handed shot to boot, had some value to the club.
Not enough value, however, to think the Lightning is in dire need to run out and find a replacement for him.
It may be the notion of contention by the club that seems to influence the idea that the defense needs help. With the Gagne move, and the top-six offensive depth, there's the perceived need of the big name being added to the ranks of the blueline to even things out.
And there's the forgotten sentiment that the Lightning aren't out to win the Stanley Cup this season... They're going to compete, that's for sure, but the construction of this team is supposed to have an eye on the long-term for the club. Not a short-term, quick-fix blueprint.
This doesn't mean that Steve Yzerman needs to be happy with the defensemen he has. I'd just rather him see the actual talent and how they perform under Coach Boucher before moving to acquire someone else.