Summer is here, and if you live in Florida (as most of us Tampa Bay Lightning fans do) that means you’re sweating like crazy, and looking all the more forward to October and the 2014-15 hockey season to begin.
The Bolts have gotten a few things handled this summer so far that bode well for the coming season: Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and most recently, Alex Killorn, have all signed new multi-year contracts to stay in Tampa Bay. These, for me, were the key-three young forwards from this past season open for resigning that I really hoped the Lightning organization would immediately wrestle down with new deals to keep them in Bolts sweaters.
Bearing in mind we get through the free agency period, but I’m sure we will.
Relieved doesn’t quite paint the picture these signings make my heart feel as much as jubilant.
I am jubilant that Johnny, Pallie, and “Killy?” (I’ve never heard his nickname, does he have one?) are back for another playoff run, more than likely. They are very much key ingredients to the Lightning’s recent success and their development as complete players down the line certainly represent the future of where this team could go in further postseason bids.
The other big possible signing anticipated (or maybe for some of you, not so anticipated) is whether or not Ryan Callahan sticks around in Florida’s heat with us for a few more seasons or is he let go, off to pursue possibly cooler hunting grounds on another team. A team willing to pay that rather hefty contract he’s hoping to get.
I personally like Callahan and the dynamic he brings to the Lightning. I just don’t like that contract when you think about how the players who are typically getting something in the neighborhood of 6 million a year give a bit more back in production then Cally. I mean come on; he’d be making a few shades less than Steven Stamkos a year and those two players are in no way comparable in production at that price.
And to top things off, if the Bolts are going to pay that kind of money out to a player, at this point, I’d much prefer a veteran or elite level D-man than anything else. Cally has got some skills, some grit, and certainly has the leadership chops to be amazing on the Lightning roster, especially if you gave him a full 82-game season to gel even more with his new Lightning line mates.
Unfortunately, he’s asking too much (hopefully his asking price goes down significantly since they are, as I understand it, still negotiating, and the free agency deadline doesn’t hit till July 1) and at his age (29), his performance levels are on the decline. Not to mention with his style of play how injury prone he is (Callahan has never played a full NHL season in his career, but once, more or less, 81 games during the 2008-09 season).
To me, and I’m not sure the free agency market has what the Lightning are looking for quite yet, but a quality defenseman is what Tampa Bay should have its sights on to spend any empty cap space laying around.
The very probable Ryan Malone compliance buyout will help with that.
The 2014 NHL draft, starting June 27-28, in Philadelphia, sees the Bolts with two first-round picks; another chance to stack the franchise with stars of the future. Tampa Bay has the No. 19 and No. 28 pick (from the New York Rangers). They further have one second round pick (No. 50), one third round pick (No. 80), Two fifth round picks (No. 140 and 142), one sixth round pick (No. 170), and one seventh round pick (No. 200).
July brings development camp for the Lightning.
Brett Connolly, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Johnathan Drouin, as well as newly signed 2013 draft picks Adam Erne and Henri Ikonen to name just a few of the top up-and-coming forwards looking to make the Lightning roster will be in attendance. At the very least these five players will be hitting the ice for the Tampa Bay affiliate AHL team, the Syracuse Crunch, but I’d be really surprised to not see Drouin (and maybe even Erne) lacing up for the Lightning in October. Maybe Connelly will finally make the team after not passing muster for the past two seasons after a solid stint in 2011-12.
Blueliners Dylan Blujus, Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek are some top new D-men looking to make the team.
In the crease, Lightning goaltenders are plowing forward from what appeared to be a banner year in Tampa Bay back-stopping in 2013-14. Ben Bishop is still rehabbing this summer after dislocating his elbow just before the playoffs last season. Bishop also underwent surgery on his right wrist after tearing a ligament before the Olympic break. Bolts training staff, along with Bishop himself, vow that he will be ready to start Lightning training camp and be 100% by the start of the season if all goes according to plan.
The Bolts may be locked up when it comes to a starting goaltender but things aren’t so solid when it comes to who will be backing up Big Ben next season. Anders Lindback is an impending restricted free agent and the Lightning might not re-resign the veteran goaltender. The Bolts currently have two developing prospects in Kristers Gudlevskis and Andrei Vasilevskiy, but both talents are still incubating and will probably see more time in Syracuse this coming season then in Tampa Bay.
So it begs the question, will the Lightning make any moves during the free agency period to acquire a solid, veteren goaltender to back up Bishop or will Gudlevskis and Vasilevskiy simply have to battle it out for the spot? Will Lindback be retained and Gudlevskis be forced to battle out with him for the backup position? Much is still developing on that front and it’ll be exciting to see how things shake out before October. But it’s clear to me that the Lightning need a good goaltending tandem if they mean to have another 100 point season.
Adam Wilcox, another Bolts goaltending prospect, recently helped his University of Minnesota team get to the 2014 Frozen Four, but more than likely this young phenom will rejoin his college team for his junior year before striking out for the NHL.
Steve Yzerman and company like to slow bake their talent before putting them on display in the big leagues, and based on how well that’s been working of late, I don’t blame him one bit.
Cook on, Yzerman! Cook on!
I’d like to believe this summer heat in Tampa Bay has something to do from all the in-house, home cooking going on with the Lightning rosters and prospects and their future endeavors at the Forum; crafting a bunch of new playoff recipes for the many postseasons to come.
Off the Dot is an ongoing column of opinions, feelings and thoughts on all things Tampa Bay Lightning. This is a knee-jerk reaction column for the many things that a fan maybe feels or thinks throughout a hockey season.
This is NOT a stat by stat analysis of the Bolts, but rather a theater of words concerning the Lightning and the many emotions tangled up in supporting your favorite NHL team; a theater for all fans to come to for a more personal take on Tampa Bay hockey.
That’s why I call it “off the dot”. Because if we were “on the dot”, as in face-off mode, well, things would be decidedly more on-point and specific. While off the dot, while we’re still just milling around the face-off circle, as I am now, waiting for the whistle to blow, then we’re just being conversational. We’re just talking about our thoughts on strategy maybe or whatever random concept happens to come to mind, needing to be expressed. The fun off-key banter of fans before someone (whoever) decides to hunker down, spread out their skates, and get nose-deep over the dot for the real face-off, and maybe say, statistically speaking, what happened in a win or loss in their more researched opinion. And we have those articles all over Bolts by the Bay, and I very much encourage you to check out those articles, too.
These are just my opinions, my feelings, and my thoughts – while we’re off the dot.