To go along with our '30 in 30' Off-season feature, we'll be asking a blogger from each team some of the burning questions surrounding their club this summer.
RLD: 1. Now with Stevie Y on board, who would you like to see become the next head coach? John Fontana: I’m not going to attempt to name who I’d want because I’m not exactly sure who Steve (Yzerman) ultimately wants in the role, and it may conflict. And I’ll trust his assessments of candidates and what not. I’ll give the coach a fair shake once he comes in.
But one thing I don’t want is another puck-mutt, stress-the-grinding coach a la Rick Tocchet. You have to have a coach who knows the talents he is working with and will play to their strengths; not try to adapt them to how he played. Not someone so focused on doing things his way that he avoids simple solutions problems faced; and someone who likes consistency. One thing that did not work at all for the Lightning last season was a constant line-juggling that had players on any given line, every other night. “Chemistry” was a foreign term, besides the chemistry that had been developed the previous season between Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
Coaches are often belligerent in one way or another, but someone with an open mind in his approach would be a major improvement.
Jon Jordan: I'm happy with Steve Yzerman in place and, though I don't want to single out one particular coach, I'd like to see someone get a fresh start, rather than a retread. Word is Yzerman might reach out to Kevin Dineen, who would fit that mold.
RLD: 2. With a new regime, do you feel Lecavalier or St. Louis could get dealt this summer? Fontana: That’s always a risk for any team – a new regime and a different direction that replaces star players for rebuilding cogs. To date, the member of the pair (Lecavalier and St. Louis) who has spoken up about the uncertainty of the future has been St. Louis and the fact he wants to play for a winner.
The local media has been keeping a watchful eye for a Lecavalier trade for a while; they’ve expected it if not outright pushed for it in the recent past because of his contractual status. And that contractual status is what makes Lecavalier a hard player to move: contract size, length, no movement clause, and Lecavalier’s own desire to stay in Tampa.
Both players are engraved in the Lightning fan psyche, and seeing either of them moved would hurt morale, unless the deal left the team better off (and not just in a salary-dump capacity, as some would suggest).
Jordan: Unless he is traded, Mike Smith will be here and I'd say Niittymaki will head elsewhere because he'll command more on the open market than the Lightning are/should be willing to pay.
Dustin Tokarski will get a look in training camp but I expect to see the Bolts ink a UFA netminder (on the cheap) to team with Smith.
RLD: 3. Who will man the crease next season: Smith, Niittymaki, or someone else? Fontana: Yzerman was on local AM radio about an hour after the press conference introducing him as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning and he did not make it sound like the team planned to re-sign Antero Niittymaki. When mentioning Smith, he did not anoint him the Lightning’s top goaltender (as former GM Brian Lawton and former HC Rick Tocchet had last summer, even though Smith was rehabbing from post-concussion syndrome). I think this will be a position where a move will be made to solidify the crease.
That’s not to say the Lightning don’t have goaltending prospects. They own the rights to KHL goaltending stud Vasily Kochechkin, they own the rights to Karri Ramo (who also played well as a starter in the KHL last season). They have two young goal prospects in Jaroslav Janus and Dustin Tokarski.
But do they have an NHL caliber tandem out of all of those bodies? Probably not.
Jordan: Hard to say. I think if they could find a taker for him, they'd move him. That's always been my position. Easier said than done, though. (Editor’s note: At the time, I had only asked Jon about Lecavalier)
RLD: 4. With Stamkos and Hedman, how soon should Bolts fans expect to get back in the playoffs? Fontana: If the team is going forward with those two players alone as the core, five years. The core of this team, as it stands is Lecavalier, St. Louis, Stamkos, Downie, Hedman and Ryan Malone. There are other parts that contribute (young D-men Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby) and with the sum of all these parts (and more) the Bolts are on the fringe of the playoffs. What did them in this past season was woeful consistency. They had none, which was helped along by poor coaching.
Jordan: There's reason to believe they could qualify for the postseason immediately. Without some ill-advised personnel moves made by GM Brian Lawton, they may have done so. They only finished what, six points out in the end?
RLD: 5. How much of an upgrade is it to have Jeff Vinik as owner instead of Koules and Barrie? Fontana: It’s not even comparable. That’s how night-and-day it is. Let’s look at the Lightning’s first hire under OK (Not Really) Hockey: Barry Melrose, who was all style, no substance; a TV personality who brought with him his fame and little else. The planned hiring had been leaked months in advance through the Canadian media (rumors started in March 2008, his hire was in June). They also forced out GM Jay Feaster, not so much by firing him, but by circumventing him in their actions and making him useless. Ultimately some of the hirings and even roster additions were cronyism, scratching friends’ backs and what not.
Now look at what Vinik has done… He made the outright and ultimate decision (at the conclusion of the season) to dismiss Lawton and Tocchet, he went on a highly secretive search for a general manager to replace Lawton (imposing a gag order on all candidates). There was a systematic process and a deliberate search… and silence. So uncharacteristic of pro sports that it un-nerved people. But it was handled with class, not bombast and not through the media. You get the impression that’s going to be how the franchise operates with all staff hires (front office, coaching, operations, etc).
There’s talk of the long range, long term. It’s been consistently the talk of what Vinik wants. OK Hockey was about the competition, the immediate, the now... And that changed form situation to situation. Adaptation is good, but inconsistency should not be confused with adaptation.
All in all, I'm more confident in the Lightning under Vinik than I was with the circus act.
Jordan: Koules had the right intentions, but is very much at fault for his association with the likes of Barrie and Lawton, in the end. I hope he gets a chance someday to run a team with more classy individuals around him. So, to answer your question, it's a gargantuan upgrade! ---
We thank these two for taking time out to answers these burning questions from Tampa Bay! You can find John Fontana’s work at SB Nation’s Raw Charge (and on Twitter) … Jon Jordan is the Lightning writer for Hockey Buzz (and on Twitter). I recommend following both!
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.