Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mullets, Melrose and Merry Times are Here!

It’s been quite the busy week for the Lightning. New owners, new coaches, new contracts and exciting new talent. The impact of all these changes won’t be determined for at least another 3 months when training camp starts, but it‘s nice to be talking about hockey in June. As an organization there hasn’t been this much of an overhaul since the Art Williams’ days. Not that anyone ever wants to recall those dark days.

One thing has been determined right away. The guys at OK Hockey are going to be hands-on owners. After years of the Davidson Group spending most of the hockey season in Detroit it will be interesting to see how the area reacts to owners that want to dabble in their investment. As early as the trade deadline there were rumors of Oren and Len talking with other teams about players without Jay Feaster’s involvement.

With Barry Melrose replacing John Tortorella and former agent Brian Lawton taking over for Bill Barber as VP of Hockey Operations it must be feeling kind of lonely for Mr. Feaster. New owners have a tendency to want to bring their guys in to run the show and even though they’ve supported him so far it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Feaster leave the organization within a year.

I’ll spare you the mullet jokes and the hate filled tirade against Melrose. I’m not sure why fans are getting as fired up about this as they are. Would they rather see Mike Keenan in here? He always gets along so well with his player, doesn’t he? The fact that Melrose hasn’t coached in over a decade could be a good thing. He may bring something new to the table. He doesn’t like the trap, wants to out work other teams and acknowledges the importance of a goalie. Sounds like an ok coach to me. It doesn’t seem that long ago that people were bemoaning the fact that the Lightning had hired some guy with no NHL head coach experience. That guy - John Tortorella and that seemed to work out alright.

Melrose will be able to build his team, a team which he said could be quite different from the one that took the ice last season, around young Vincent Lecavalier. Despite the fact he’s been in the NHL for a decade, Vinny is still only 28 so signing him to a nine year deal isn’t that bad of an idea. With his physical conditioning it isn’t a stretch to see him playing into his 40’s. Based on the preliminary numbers being thrown out there by ($8.6 million per year) he’s really only making a little more than a million more than he did last year.

The deal isn’t too bad and it’ll look even better when someone signs Marion Hossa to a similar deal. The same Hossa who has never scored 50 goals and is a year older than young Vinny. Lecavalier, as a center, is inherently more valuable to the team as well. He makes other players around him better whereas a winger such as Hossa needs somebody setting him up. My best guess is that Hossa ends up in New York, especially if Jagr plays in Europe.

Another free agent name getting a lot of play in the TBA blog-o-spheres is Ryan Malone. He’s big (6’4”), he’s a left winger and he’s racked up 20 goals or more in 3 of his 4 seasons in the NHL. The only problem - he’s going to be expensive. A GM would probably have to spend around $5 million a season for several years to lock up his services. Malone will be able to play several suitors off of each other - a scenario that almost always leads to a team spending too much money.

While the team promised to be active in free agency, aggressive is the word they used I believe, I don’t think Malone is a good fit. We’ll explore free agents more after July 1.

In short and with the exception of talking about Steven Stamkos, who I hope everyone has seen by now, that’s what the Bolts have been up to lately. The climb to the top of the division has only begun. They’re out of the cellar.