Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lightning Draft Hedman - hey maybe these guys know what they're doing after all

Shortly before the NHL draft started Friday evening I left a voice mail for my buddy Link. A Pittsburghian, Link was still basking in the glow of his team winning the Stanley Cup and could probably care less who the Penguins were drafting. On the other hand, my message belied my lack of confidence in Lightning Management. I believe it was something along the line of “I wonder how the Bolts are going to screw this up.” Visions of Brian Lawton dealing the number two pick for Louis DeBrusk and the rights to a 16 year old Canadian sheep farmer danced in my head.

One day later I can report that not only did they not screw it up, they actually had a pretty good first day. Victor Hedman immediately becomes one of their top four blue liners despite the fact that he isn’t old enough to legally enjoy a mojito. Then late in the day GM Brian Lawton sent two of their second round picks to Detroit for the 29th pick and used it on right winger Carter Ashton. Ashton is a big body with “NHL skating” ability. With little depth up front he might have an outside chance of making the roster this year.

Once the Islanders ended months of speculation by announcing John Tavares as their number one pick things fell into place for the Lightning. It didn’t take long for them to announce that they were taking Hedman, a large Swedish defenseman who’s been playing in the elite Swedish league since he was 16. If the Islanders had gone in a different direction, Lawton’s night would have been much more difficult.

A rumor floated around that if Tavares was available at number two the Lightning would pull off a complicated three team deal with Toronto and Nashville in which Tampa would end up with Luke Schenn and Shea Weber. Toronto GM Brian Burke had reiterated earlier in the day that Schenn was off the table, but if Tavares had been available he may have been tempted to deal the young defenseman.

Overall there wasn’t much drama at all in the draft. The Ducks sent aging defenseman Chris Pronger to Philadelphia for a package that included everything except the Liberty Bell. The 15 year veteran was traded for Joffrey Lupul, young blue liner Luca Sbisa, two first round picks and a third round pick. It appears that the Flyers are making a run at the Cup for this season. They mortgaged a lot of future potential for a player that is going to be a free agent after this season.

Neither Montreal or Toronto made the “big splash” that critics had expected. Montreal did make the home fans cheer when they drafted home town product Louis Leblanc. Amidst chants of “Sixty-Seven”, 1967 being the last year the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, Brian Burke drafted Nazeem Kadri. Kadri, an offensively gifted forward, was “excited to see who his new favorite team would be”. Well according to Twitter he was. Yes, I followed Twitter for the draft.

The Pronger deal was the only big deal made on the first day of the draft Both of the hot names on the market, Vincent Lecavalier and Dany Heatley, remain on their current team. A Phil Kessel to Toronto deal fell through when it was reported that Boston wouldn’t be getting Toronto’s seventh overall pick. Details, details.

TSN reported that Jay Bowmeester was traded to Calgary Saturday morning for the rights to Jordon Leopold and a third round pick. It will be interesting to see if Calgary can sign the big defender. They are already at about $45 million against a cap that is reported to be about $56 million. Perhaps the Flames will be looking to unload a player later in the summer (Cory Sarich at $3.6, possibly?) Western Conference teams can’t be looking forward to facing a team that can boast both Bowmeester and Dion Phaneuf.

In the end Friday was a big step forward for the Lightning franchise. They drafted a blue liner that is solid in his own zone and can add a little scoring. The owners didn’t get into a fist fight on the stage. Vincent is still wearing the blue and black. Not a bad day at all.

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