Our three part series (part I and part II) with the good folks at Raw Charge comes to end today with our final piece which focuses on some of Tampa's up-and-coming talent, the realization that Evan Oberg does indeed still walk amongst us, I (inadvertently) insult Guy Boucher and how will the Bolts survive in the competitive Southeast.
Best new thing in the world today: oberging. Read on.
Nucks Misconduct: With perhaps only a few more years left in St. Louis' tank, how close is Alex Killorn to shoring up the potential hole at LW? Or does Tanner Richard (or someone else?) show more promise?
Raw Charge: Well, first off, Marty’s playing out of position at left-wing to begin with [mgmt note: opps]. He’s a RW, but the lack of depth at LW has dictated him shifting to LW. But, then again, Guy Boucher just throws lines together regardless of how many wings or centers are in the grouping.
That being said, the player that has fans attention is Cory Conacher. Another undersized, undrafted collegiate player came into camp last September and wowed everyone. He joined the Norfolk Admirals and proceeded to win the AHL rookie of the year award and various other honors for his 80 point season (39 goals, 41 assists). It’s thought that a roster spot in Tampa for him is his to lose.
Another collegiate, J.T. Brown, could also be the future of scoring on the wing for the Bolts. Signed out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth (one of the top collegiate free agents), Brown played 5 games with the Lightning last season, putting up a single point. He’s on a two-way contract, so he may see time in Syracuse to hone his skills before getting more ice-time in Tampa.
Killorn will be given plenty of playing time in Syracuse this forthcoming season, with call-up potential. It’s his first full season in the pros after his career at Harvard.
NM: All things being equal, do you think TBL would benefit more from gifting Vladislav Namestnikov with some sheltered minutes or giving Mark Barberio a chance on the bottom pairing and maybe limited PP time?
RC: Neither [mgmt note: opps]. That’s not to sully what Barberio, who put up (stats) in his second pro season with the Norfolk Admirals last year. That’s also not to downplay Vladdy’s potential at center… General Manager Steve Yzerman has shown, in his two seasons as GM, he’s going to bring along prospects slowly. If they earn a roster spot – they earn a roster spot. But he’s not going to rush them unless circumstances out of his control dictate things (i.e.: injuries, which is the only reason why goalie Dustin Tokarski made it to the Lightning briefly last season). One could look at Brett Connolly and say that is proof that TB will take a chance… But Connolly wasn’t getting sheltered minutes… He earned (or lost) playing time like anyone else. The organization was also not so confident with the situation in Prince George (Connolly’s junior team). It’s part of why they were willing to give him a roster spot. Namestnikov will most likely be making his professional debut this season with the Syracuse Crunch, Tampa Bay’s new AHL affiliate. That will translate into plenty of ice time for Vladdy and a chance to develop his game. And Barberio will certainly be quarterbacking the Crunch defense this season in part because Tampa Bay has eight defensemen on one-way contracts. Nine if you include the injured Mattias Ohlund.
NM: Leaping Lars Lindgren you iced Evan Oberg last year! We blinked and missed his time as a Canuck. Tell us you saw him play or else we'll continue to think he is make-believe, like world peace or Mark Messier.
RC: Cassie can vouch for the existence of Evan Oberg. She, too, doubted his existence – we all sort of thought that he was a name that the Lightning kept throwing into the transactions, just because it made them look like they were doing something. But then she spent some quality time in Norfolk, Virginia, watching the Admirals during the end of their epic winning streak and playoffs, and he is truly real. He is also a very good defenseman as well. And one day, he will prove to the rest of the NHL that he's not just a name in a transaction racking up frequent flier miles [mgmt note: awesome!].
NM: Guy Boucher's had a bit of a rollercoaster experience in his two seasons as bench boss. Doesn't seem fair to blame him for last season's results, but if he needed to improve in one area, what would it be? An acceptable answer is his deliberate infatuation with monotone colors.
RC: Well, as Guy Boucher is reportedly colorblind, you may have to take up his wardrobe issues with his wife. [mgmt note: I'm going to hell]
The roller coaster of his tenure so far is almost as if things have happened in reverse: The club planned to have a non-playoff season in 2010-11, and that went straight out the door when the team over-performed at every turn. Last season, with heightened expectations, the Bolts under-achieved – though they showed promise for the future.
Much like with Steve Yzerman as GM, two years isn't much of a sample size to judge Guy Boucher’s coaching capabilities. Part of his problems in regards to coaching is that he's trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. That is, he's trying to play a high risk / high reward system with players that don't necessarily play well within that type of game.
For instance, much has been made of the fact that Boucher's system requires mobile, puck moving defensemen. While Mattias Ohlund is well-liked among the fans, even in his prime, he could not be called neither mobile, nor a puck moving, defenseman. As of right now, he may or may not be coming back from partial knee replacement surgery, but you get the idea.
NM: The Southeast used to be a joke and the Northwest used to be a nightmare. Now the skate's on the other foot (zing!). To make the dance TBL will need to keep pace - if not pass - a heavily re-tooled Carolina squad, a persistent Washington team and your stately neighbors who may very well be sporting our current back-up by the time the puck drops (wink wink). Brass tacks Raw Charge: can you do it?
RC: What about Winterpeg? You mean to tell me that Vancouver has written off the threat of the Former-Thrashers?! INCONCEIVABLE!
Here’s a messed up factoid: Guy Boucher is the most tenured head coach in the Southeast Division with all of two seasons under his belt. Two seasons. Two. Does that make a difference? Well, it’s a shred of stability in a division that has been overturned from top to bottom.
Yet, last year – the 2011 offseason and the 2011 preseason – the same crowing was going on about the strength of the Southeast. Washington had retooled and seemed ready for anything, the Florida Panthers had remade themselves into a competitive force, the Carolina Hurricanes had done their part and never seem to be one to be counted out, and Tampa Bay had retooled to build off success of 2010-11. That seems silly to think about in retrospect to how the 2011-12 season turned out, where the Southeast Division ended up being a competition not of who wanted the division title, but who would dare try to win it.
Carolina is a force now, no doubt about it. The Panthers continue on the rise (with or without the mighty pads of one Roberto Luongo) while Washington cannot be underestimated in their transition. Winnipeg’s puck-possession hockey and goalie tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and Al Montoya make them the dark horses in the division.
Can we do it? You bet your sweet ass we can [mgmt note: you had me at hello]. Even with issues (injuries, the horrible goaltending, defensive lapses, an anemic power play, liquidating everyday players leading up to the trade deadline), Tampa Bay closed the season in 3rd place in the division – 7 points behind Washington, a stone throw from the playoffs. If the defensive situation is solidified – as it should be – and if goaltending is improved (and it is) then the Lightning vying for the division title is totally possible.
[Thanks again to the Raw Charge crew for their help in pulling this series together! Best of luck going forward and hopefully we'll actually get to see them on October 28 at Rogers Arena or shortly thereafter. Our final piece is up and running over there as well.]