The Future is Uncertain and the End is always near
The offseason is in full swing - maybe I say that specifically because when you see the captain of your hockey team hanging out with Lord Stanley's Cup at Walt Disney Worldm you know that the season is over.
Yes, we are still rejoicing here in Tampa, yes we are still excited... but also terrified to know that there is no hockey besides the World Cup for months - or possibly longer.
grumble, grumble.... stupid work stoppage...
But at any rate, I had been planning for a while a post with regards to the future of the Lightning -- next seasons roster specifically. I would love to make this a more in-depth post and make mention of our new AHL Affiliate (new? Old, really, but we now have full rights over the team) the Springfield Falcons and who we will be sending there...
But first we have to realize that there are going to be changes in Tampa Bay next season... Minor or otherwise, there will be changes none-the-less.
First t6hings first, you need to know who the 2004 Free Agents are in the NHL. I'm not thinking about who I'd love to have in a Lightning uniform. I'm thinking about who I would love to keep in a Lightning uniform instead.
- Janne Laukkanen, (UFA)
- Dave Andreychuk, (III)
- Jassen Cullimore, (III)
- Nikolai Khabibulin, (III)*
- Stan Neckar, (III)
- Darren Rumble, (III)
- Dmitry Afanasenkov, (II)
- Nikita Alexeev, (II)
- Martin Cibak, (II)
- Ben Clymer, (II)
- Chris Dingman, (II)
- Brian Eklund, (II)
- Ruslan Fedotenko, (II)
- Sheldon Keefe, (II)
- Evgeny Konstantinov, (II)
- Pavel Kubina, (II)
- Fredrik Modin, (II)
- Jimmie Olvestad, (II)
- Nolan Pratt, (II)
- Andre Roy, (II)
- Cory Sarich, (II)
- Martin St. Louis, (II)
- Cory Stillman, (II)
- Pascal Trepanier, (II)
- Shane Willis, (II)
First things first -- you know Janne Laukkanen is gone. You also have to realize that most likely Jimmie Olvestad will be back in Europe next season... So scratch two from that list. Add Nikolai Khabibulin as a lock to return as Jay Feaster has stated as-so-much before the deadline and you have three players already accounted for.
Darren Rumble can be replaced next season with relative ease with either more talented or a younger player. But defense is a big question because of who is able to walk this year and what Jay Feaster is thinking. I believe Corey Sarich is a lock to be re-signed, and of course Pavel Kubina as well... Those will not come cheaply as Sarich and Kubina have become forces. Also Jassen Cullimore is a solid rock on Defense and I believe he will request to be paid like it - which throws things into uncertainty at the top of the Lightning defense. Do you pay Cullimore what he wants? Or do yo promote Corey Sarich to the top 4 on defense to go along with Sydor, Kubina and Lukowich? Will you willingly take that risk? Will Cullimore (or Sarich, or Kubina) make so outlandish a demand that they are traded instead of re-signed?
There are also questions on defense about how ready players like Andreas Holmqbist and Mike Egener are. if they are ready to step in at the NHL Level, Nolan Pratt and Stan Neckar are goners or destined to ride the pine if they were re-signed. If they need to be brought along slowly, it will give Pratt and whoever other veteran talent is playing defense a chance to have another season of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey under their belt - at least partly.
The biggest problem the Lightning are facing is at the forward position. You have 4 key wings who are free agents this season and two players who could step in also listed as free agents. Martin St. Louis has some teams salivating. With how much of a team player he has been, I don't believe there will be bitterness in the contract negotiation... that being said, I also believe he won't sign until after the new CBA is drawn up, and that new CBA is going to dictate what he signs for and also who he signs with... Yes, that's right - with. I can see Fredrik Modin taking the same pay as he had been in Tampa -- only because his last season was the first one he played up to par in a while. Ruslan Fedotenko is in for a raise - and with his Stanley Cup Playoff performance - I don't see many arguing with that point. He's too young to let go and too valuable as well.
This makes Corey Stillman the odd man out. Stillman's already making a bundle in the past and will no-doubt ask for more. this is where I think it's best to trade him. There are many doubts one can issue with regards to who will step in for his loss -- I pin that on Dmitry Afansenkov, Nikita Alexeev and others with this team -- or if this team can even afford that loss... But I believe that it's best for the long term that Corey moves on... Not because of attitude or something like that... This is a business move that both strengthens us and hurts us at the same time. What happens with Stillman dictates how important it is to retain Alexeev, Afansenkov and even Sheldon Keefe (though I could see Keefe traded this off season). Another potential addition/replacement for Corey is in Russia -- Alexander Polushin. Polushin, a right wing who has been long-stranded in Russia because of the Lightning's lack of an AHL affiliate. I could see Jay Feaster signing him this off season to play in North America. If he makes the team, that's another story, but having him in the States is vital to the Lightning's future.
I haven't listed Dave Andreychuk yet and he's a very big question mark. I believe he'll re-sign on a moments notice but he has also said he is going to do some deep thinking with regards to where he goes from here -- retirement? Another season? -- and make his decision in the future. I can't gauge what will happen. I have only the highest respects for Dave and if he comes back -- it will be good for the team. If he retires, I sure as hell hope that someone in management decides to keep him with the Lightning franchise as a coach or at some other executive position.
The other must-resign (to me) is Brian Eklund due to the lack of depth the Lightning have at netminder. Eklund will move up to the AHL next season a nd will be on call if something should happen to Khabby or John Grahame. AHL experience is a lot better to have than ECHL experience before being called up to the NHL. Fredrik Norrena will also be an attempted signing to play in North America and be on call to step in for the Lightning if need be.
A lot of other players on the list above are a wash to me and I could see them either going or staying. I think Chris Dingman and Andr? Roy should both be re-signed but I don't make these calls, Jay Feaster does. I also think, up until the last couple of games of the playoffs, Ben Clymer was out of a job... But then again, he turned it around and was valuable at the close of this series. I had thought that Eric Perrin was a free agent but I am not sure. If he is under contract I could see him getting a chance to play wing instead of center... but that's a what-if type of idea...
The Draft is approaching and I am sorry but I can't give a thorough analysis on that... i know the Lightning are in need of minor league depth at forward but beyond that I cannot say what this team needs to do during the draft, or what prospects are under the Lightning's banner that need to be signed and brought in to try to make the team.