General manager Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning put his cards on the table so to speak recently, talking about getting a goalie for the Bolts. "My preference," Yzerman said, "is to go with a little bit of a younger guy that maybe has a little less experience and can step up and play well for us now."
The Lightning missed out on getting into this year's NHL playoffs, after coming within one game of getting into the Stanley Cup finals just the year before.
There were a myriad of reasons why that occurred. The loss of key personnel and also numerous injuries were just two reasons, but the biggest issue with the Bolts in the 2011-2012 season was the very mediocre play by the goalies.
Yzerman has been a very steady general manager since he took a little over two years ago. The moves that he has made to upgrade the franchise have been very good overall. In fact, Yzerman was nominated as NHL General Manager of the Year his first year on the job.
However, Yzerman made his first clear mistake when he re-signed aging G Dwayne Roloson, who he had traded for in midseason during the 2010-2011 campaign, instead of keeping back up G Mike Smith to be the main man in front of the net, as Smith went on to have a very nice year with the Phoenix Coyotes.
The 42-year-old Roloson saw his play spiral downward compared to the nice campaign he had the year before, as he had the Bolts in game seven of the Eastern Conference finals vs. the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. This past season Roloson was 13-16, had 3.66 goals against average and had a very generous .886 save percentage. Ironically, Roloson also had five shutouts.
In 2010-2011, Roloson was 18-12, had a 2.56 goals against average, had .912 save percentage, plus had four shutouts.
As you can see, the is major difference comparing the two seasons. No wonder Yzerman wants to get younger at the G position.
Meanwhile Smith played very well for the Coyotes, as he led them to the Western Conference finals against this year's eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Los Angeles Kings. Smith was 38-18 this past season, with a 2.21 goals against average, a .930 save percentage, plus had eight shutouts.
Smith's recent injury-plagued past (concussions) certainly was one of the reasons Yzerman opted to keep Roloson. In four years with the Lightning, Smith was 43-52, had a cumulative 2.85 goals against average, had a cumulative .902 save percentage and had six shutouts.
So priority number one for Yzerman is to try and find a young goalie that can be successful in the present and future. The organization already has a young G in Dustin Tokarski, who was up with the Bolts for awhile this past season and just recently led his club, the Norfolk Admirals, to the Calder Cup in the AHL.
The Lightning also just signed former first-round draft pick Riku Helenius to a two-year contract.
Tokarski or Helenius have a chance to be the back up G next season for the Bolts, but Yzerman is interested in finding a NHL-ready goalie that is currently on a NHL roster to be his No. 1 G.
There are a number of options available in terms of getting a young G. Yzerman is reportedly very interested in Vancouver Canucks G Cory Schneider, but he probably will not be available, as he looks to be the Canucks G of the future after he took away the G job from Roberto Luongo in this year's playoffs.
Luongo will be available if wanted, but his age (33) and his expensive contract will most likely have Yzerman looking elsewhere.
There are three other young goalies that Yzerman should look at closely. They would be Jonathan Bernier (23 years old) of the Kings, Brian Elliot (27 years old) of the St. Louis Blues and Anders Lindback (24 years old) of the Nashville Predators.
The one I want to focus on is Bernier, who is currently is the back up to the current Conn Smythe Award winner, G Jonathan Quick of the Stanley Cup winning Kings.
The Kings are going to be working on a contract extension for Quick, as "quickly" as possible, as his current contract only runs through next season. But Bernier is the type of G that Yzerman is looking for, plus he has the ammunition that should excite the Kings in terms of compensation.
Bernier is a former first-round pick (11th overall) of the Kings back in 2006. Overall in the NHL, Bernier is 20-17, has 2.50 goals against average, has a .910 save percentage and has five shutouts. With just about any other NHL team, Bernier would be a starter right now. But not with Quick playing in front of the net for the Kings.
In terms of compensation, the Lightning is loaded going into the 2012 NHL draft. The Bolts have two first-round picks (No. 10 and No. 19) and three second-round picks (No. 37, No. 40 and No. 50).
Meanwhile, the Kings have a first-round pick (No. 30), but do not pick again until the fourth round. The Lightning can make up the gap by giving the Kings a couple of picks in trading for Bernier.
The same scenario holds true with the Predators, as they do not even pick until the third round of the draft, which starts in just a over a week from now. The Lightning would not have as much trading power with the Blues, who have picks in every round of the draft, plus have two picks in the third round.
Getting a young G is not the final piece of the puzzle for the Lightning going into next season. They also need to improve their defense and add some depth to their lines.
But getting someone like Bernier would certainly help. Not only next year, but for a long period of time, perhaps a decade or more, to lead the Bolts to another Stanley Cup title, something he knows all about right now with the Kings recently winning the Cup.
Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis of the Bolts also know about being Stanley Cup champions too, as they were on the Lightning team which was able to lift Lord Stanley after the 2003-2004 season. Yzerman also knows all about winning a Stanley Cup. Yzerman won three Stanley Cups as a player with the Detroit Red Wings and another one as a member of the front office of the Red Wings.
Bernier will help make the quest towards another Stanley Cup title that much easier for all of them.
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