The patience of the dedicated is beginning to wear thin, however, and if a turnaround isn’t noticeable very soon, expect empty seats to multiply.
While the jewel from last offseason’s draft has yet to show his true worth, progression in the young star has been apparent. Steve Stamkos didn't come out of the gate as strong as fans hoped, but as my bookie once told me, “It's not how the horse starts, it's how he finishes.”
Before the All-Star break, Stamkos put up a depressing 18 points in 45 games. The light bulb seemed to flicker a little stronger after the break, when he doubled his average points per game, from 0.40 to 0.82.
In the final 22 games of the season, Stamkos avoided putting up a goose egg in consecutive games. He notched 13 goals and 21 points in that span.
So, don’t lose hope just yet.
The 2009 draft will bring another NHL-ready prospect to Tampa Bay in John Tavares, Victor Hedman, or Matt Duchene. Depending which prospect falls in their lap and strikes their fancy, he could mold the Lightning’s offseason progress.
If the Islanders decided to take Hedman No. 1, passing up on Tavares is not an option for GM Brian Lawton. Many are speculating that if this is to happen, Vincent Lecavalier would be traded to prevent an overabundance at center.
A trade for an accomplished defenseman with strong potential would be the obvious choice. Talks about a swap for Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson have been floating around, but finding an interested suitor for Lecavalier shouldn’t be too difficult even with his price tag.
If Hedman falls where expected, Tampa Bay will be given a quick answer to their gaping hole at the blue line. But a pool of mediocre defensemen doesn’t sound like a great learning environment for a rookie.
Dealing with the growth of a young star once again becomes the issue. And if fans thought staying optimistic with Stamkos was hard, they are not going to know what hit them.
Whoever’s name Lawton decides to call on June 26, the learning curve for that player should be very similar to what was seen with Stamkos last season. Hopefully fans have learned their lesson and won’t put any unneeded pressure upon the future star.
My advice to Lightning fans: Take a deep breath, pinch your nose, and fight down another spoonful of patience for the 2009-10 season. It will make things that much better.
Matt Pettinger, LW (unrestricted free agent)
Pettinger has continued to prove that his skills are barely good enough to be called lackluster. After two 30-plus-point seasons with the Capitals, he has failed to reach better than half of that mark the past two seasons. To be blunt, his defense has been awful. He has posted a -11 +/- or lower the past three seasons, and signs for improvement are minimal.
David Koci, LW (UFA):
David picked up the most major penalties on the Lightning last season yet only delivered 39 hits. Koci doesn’t use his big frame to its potential, and his lack of skill forces him to take bad penalties. While his +/- showed improvement, finding a workable and cheaper replacement in the free-agent market shouldn’t be difficult.
Marek Malik, D (UFA):
Malik hasn’t played in more than 42 games the past two seasons, and his +/- has dropped off significantly. The price tag for Malik is too high for what the Lightning might get from him in return.
Josef Melichar, D (UFA):
The Lightning acquired Melichar, along with a 2009 fourth-round draft pick, in a trade deadline move for Jussi Jokinen, presumably to get something from a player that had no intentions of re-signing. Melichar was second on the team in +/- but this aging journeyman has no place on a young and transitioning team. Hopefully the draft pick will be more memorable.
Noah Welch, D (UFA):
In another trade-deadline move, Welch came to the Lightning for Steve Eminger who was another restricted free agent that the team would probably not resign. Noah was nonexistent during his 17 games with Tampa Bay and has very little upside. A third-round draft pick, which also came with the transaction, should easily prove to be the better piece of this trade.
Cory Murphy, D (UFA):
Too old. Diminishing talent. No room… short and simple.
Lukas Krajicek, D (restricted free agent):
Last season, Krajicek played in more games and posted more points than any other defenseman on the team—this unfortunately places him in a category where he is a dwarf among midgets. The Lightning are going to have a new defenseman guarding the blue line next season, whether it is through the draft or through a trade. Add in Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros, who are optimistic about turning a healthy leaf, and Krajicek already has too much competition for his roster spot. Plus, we haven’t even talked about Matt Smaby or Matt Lashoff yet.
Mike Lundin, D (RFA):
Lundin played in all 81 games for Tampa Bay in the 2007-08 season but couldn’t even play a third of that amount last season. He is good at blocking shots but seems too cautious with his body when it comes to hitting. With prospects like Ty Wishart brandishing decent skills in the AHL, a re-signing Lundin on potential alone isn’t plausible.
Mike McKenna, G (RFA):
An obese GAA and a save percentage that smells like a freshly dirtied litter box should be enough to give this net minder the see-ya-later. At the end of the day, Karri Ramo has greater potential than McKenna, and last year’s fourth round pick Dustin Tokarski will be looking to make his own waves at a roster spot after another outstanding season with the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL.
Matt Smaby, D (Restricted Free Agent):
There is “enjoying throwing your body around” and then there is what Matt Smaby does. Matt notched 122 hits in just 43 games with the Lightning last season, recording 54 more hits than the closest contender on his team. Smaby’s 2.84 hits per game ranked in the top 10, placing his name among the NHL’s well-known defensemen. Smaby is oozing with potential and deserves to be re-signed.
Matt Lashoff, D (RFA):
In yet another trade characterized by dumping salary for prospects, the Lightning obtained Lashoff, Martins Karsums, and a second-round pick in this year’s draft in exchange for Mark Recchi. Matt was the 22nd pick overall in the 2005 draft and has put up decent numbers during his tenure in the AHL. While this hasn’t fully translated to his game on NHL rinks, there is still untapped potential brewing. His seven points in his first 12 games as a Lightning showed promise.
Martins Karsums, RW (RFA):
With only 24 NHL games under his belt, the book on Karsums is hardly written. In the AHL, he has proven to have a nice touch to his passes but has yet to bring that skill with him on his NHL call-ups. Since the trade from Boston, Martins has put up only five points in 18 games. He will have to prove he can do a lot better than that if he wants to make it a permanent stay.The potential is there, but turning that into results is the hardest step.
Karri Ramo, G (RFA):
Ramo has flashed signs of brilliance the past two years, but it can be hard to find beneath all of his dismal stats. This will definitely work in favor of the front office come signing time. Ramo is a decent backup and still possesses a smidgen of potential. A one-year, “prove to us what you can really do” contract should suffice, but if improvements are still not seen, cut the rope.
“Dump and Chase” is a team-by-team series of articles that let Jason put on his GM hat and tell those big wigs how an out-of-work hockey fan would run their team. I hope they are taking notes.