Monday, June 1, 2009

Get Ready for the Fun! The offseason is right around the corner...

Let’s talk about some hockey today, shall we? The clock is winding down on the season ( despite being down 2-0 I think the Pens still have a chance) and talk is starting to gear up for the draft. When you follow a team that has been as downtrodden as the Lightning have been the last few seasons it’s the best part of season. The draft is all about the future, and the future is all about hope.

For now it appears that management is leaning towards holding onto the second overall pick. Beleaguered GM Brian Lawton has made several comments over the past few weeks about building through the draft. Depending on the actions of the Islanders in front of them the Bolts could add dynamic young sensation Jonathon Tavares or rugged Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman. Critics and pundits across the North American continent agree that they can’t go wrong with either pick.

Should Tavares be available he would give Tampa Bay another young scoring threat on the front line. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine four 30 goal scorers (Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Vinny and Marty) on the team in seasons to come. Who needs defense when you have offense like that!

If the next offensive prodigy is scooped up by the Islanders, then that leaves the 6’ 6” defenseman from Sweden. The rugged defender has leapfrogged Tavares in several mock drafts based on his play last season with Modo in the Swedish league. He would leap to the top of the Lightning’s stable of young defenseman and form the cornerstone of what should be a formidable corps of blue liners. The comparisons to Nick Lidstrom have already started and playing among elite Swedes developed his game more than playing in juniors would have.

Drafting either player would cost them about $3 million a year by the time bonuses and base pay are done so it won’t be adding too much of a burden to the already taxed payroll. There is an outside chance that drafting Tavares would signal a trade of Lecavalier if they can find the right package for him which would open up the payroll for free agency. Finding a team with the cap room to absorb Vinny’s almost $8 million price tag and that has the right NHL ready prospects is a challenge.

They would also have to be certain that they would be able to draft Tavares. I don’t see them moving Vinny without having a marketable star to replace him. So trading the Lightning captain this summer seems unlikely. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be shocked to see a big name move from the roster, possibly along with the number one pick.

Everyone down here likes dismissing the Canadian media down here, even if they end up being right about certain things (John Tortorella’s departure and Dave Andreychuck’s dismissal being two that I can think of off of the top of my head). One of the bigger stories of late has been Toronto’s desire to move up far enough to snag Tavares. That means grabbing they Lightning’s or the Islander’s pick.

Would Brian Burke be willing to part with prized defenseman Luke Schenn and his number one pick for Ryan Malone and the Lightning’s number one? Would the Lightning move Malone and the pick for just the Toronto pick (number 7 overall)? There are rumblings that Malone is extremely unhappy in Tampa and would be willing to accept a deal that got him out of here.

For their part, both Burke and Lawton have denied trade talks with Burke stating that trading Schenn to move up 5 sports “doesn’t make a lot of sense”. Of course, they are GM’s so half of their job description is lying to the press. The other half is to make their team better, sometimes by pulling the trigger on big deals.

Malone is an interesting trade piece. He has a cap hit of $4.5 million which isn’t that bad, but it’s stretched out until 2014-15 which is quite a long contract. Who knows what the NHL will look like by then? Malone scored 26 goals last season despite missing 12 games with injuries. He also ended up a +4 on a defensively deficient team.

He’s in his scoring prime right now and matches up well with deft passing centers and wingers who take a lot of shots. He is most adept at parking himself in front of the net for deflections and rebounds. Losing him would be big for the Lightning as they don’t have someone to replace him. Evgeny Artyukhin is a large human, but he doesn’t like the play in front of the net.

Would Malone fit on the Maple Leaf’s squad? That depends on what else Burke tries to do in the off season, but I’m sure they could find a spot for him. Would Lightning fans riot over moving Malone and the first round pick without getting a player in return? Probably not, after all it’s hard to riot when you’re surrounded by some of America’s best beaches and golf courses. The usual rabble would ensue, some teeth would be gnashed, threats of cancelling tickets would be made, but in the end I think the uproar would be mild. I doubt it would help season ticket sales, but one could argue that it makes the team better.

Making the trade can be defended. For starters, there could still be impact offense available at the 7th spot in Brayden Schenn (Luke’s brother) and Evander Kane. Shedding Malone’s contract makes it easier to keep Vinny around. Of course, it would all hinge on the Islanders taking Hedman first over all so the entire argument could be moot.

No matter what happens the next month should be exciting for the team and what remains of it’s fan base. So stick around, if there is any breaking news I’ll be sure to let you know about it well after it happens.

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