Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raw Charge provides Tampa Bay Lightning draft perspective

Before we sink into the depths of what will surely be a painful night for either Joe or myself (or an unreal day for me/a solid night for Joe. I mean, seriously, is this even exciting for Red Wings fans anymore? Just kidding ... kind of.), let's keep this draft mojo going.

Continuing in sequence for now, at least, we're taking a look at the past, present and future of Tampa Bay Lightning drafts with SBN Tampa Bay bloggers Raw Charge. Big thanks to the crew and follow Raw Charge for all your Bolts related wants and needs.

The Obvious Questions

1. Although it seems like the Islanders will choose Tavares in the draft, which player would YOU prefer to see in Tampa Bay and why?

RAW CHARGE: The hype says Tavares but the need, want, and the focus on the long term benefits as well as the short term say Hedman. The Lightning decimating their defense last off-season, entirely a self-inflicted disaster created our need to have at least one person who is a lock to stay put (possibly for a very long time) on the blue-line with skill to back it up.

It appears that Hedman is "wanted and needed" by a fair share of talented femme-bloggers.

2. Let's say Tavares DOES fall to Tampa. What do you think the Lightning should do if that happened? Feel free to expand on this topic.

RAW CHARGE: You know, I just did a write up a few days ago given this unlikely scenario that Tavares does not get selected first overall and came up with three scenarios that could play out: Selecting John, trading the pick, or picking at #2 and leaving Tavares for someone else.

If the Lightning selected Tavares, they would certainly move Vincent Lecavalier as a result (you can’t really have three franchise-caliber centers at one time, can you? I’d love to see it but that is about as likely as another Star Wars movie -- and one that doesn’t suck to boot) and that would really be the only scenario that would guarantee Lecavalier’s end in TB (right now everything is speculation but the writing has been on the wall for a while, that the Lightning are shopping him).

Trading the pick would have to result in a lump sum in return… And that gets very shaky with current ownership and management’s track record with trades… The assessments of players coming back are questionable at times, and at others it’s not clear if they want to rebuild or simply retool and what criteria fits the bill in a return deal…

Personally, I’d rather see John selected ... It gives you a clue that the team is building for the future if not immediate contention …

3. It's hard to believe "Seen Stamkos" was only a year ago. How do you feel about his progress so far? What's his ceiling in the NHL?

RAW CHARGE: Progress? I thought he wasn’t ready for the NHL, I mean who can question the assessments of Barry Melrose? He was on TV! TV people know things better than the rest of us! It’s true! Seriously! Honest!

Snark aside, I just want to know what would have happened if he had played under Rick Tocchet the entire season instead of being held back by Melrose?

His ceiling is what he makes of it. Lecavalier had a slower rise, while Richards consistently improved his first few seasons.

Fun/historic questions

4. Describe some of your favorite Tampa Bay Lightning draft memories? Is there a pick that stands out as the best one they've made? What, if any, steals come to mind?

RAW CHARGE: I can’t really say I have a favorite draft memory for the Lightning. Part of it is the lack of coverage down here building up to the draft. The NFL draft, by comparison, is built up starting weeks beforehand. The NHL draft has gotten barely any coverage and you learn little about the prospects from the local dailies (besides the top pick who the Lightning may have their eyes on).

Others might be able to identify a specific positive memory from the draft, for me they all seem to mix together too much in nothingness: A selection, the big hoopla at the stage with scouts, the GM and Bettman all smiling goofy-like. Substance that could make a draft a pleasant memory is lacking up until some of the picks end up playing for and contributing to the big club.

As for steals: I was once told by a very informed and respected friend of mine who loved the Bolts to no end, that Brad Richards was destined to be a career minor leaguer. I see how Richards was a third round pick and I laugh and shake my head at this. That was a steal when you think about it. Richards would go on to win the Memorial Cup in the CHL with Rimouski, he’d come to the NHL and make an immediate impact. He won the Conn Smythe trophy, etc.

There’s another steal that happened in the 1996 draft… Now, people decry how weak that draft was but you can go through draft selections and find plenty of current NHL’ers… Some journeymen that never lived up to the hype and some that went beyond expectations. A young Czech named Pavel Kubina was selected in the 7th round of that draft by Phil Esposito. Kubina would end up contributing on the Lightning blue line for eight seasons… With Espo’s otherwise poor latter round track record, that was a monumental steal.

5. On the other end of the fence, describe some of the lowest moments for the Lightning. Which decisions stick out as some of their worst in the draft? Are there any bad choices (and missed opportunities) that hurt especially bad?

RAW CHARGE: I think that’s something that happens for most any team. I mean, a team will pick someone and tout them but they never live up to expectations while someone picked later would end up becoming a star.

Case in point, the 1993 NHL Draft: The Bolts (2nd ever draft) selected Kingston center Chris Gratton with the #3 pick in the draft. Gratton has been a contributing journeyman center for the most part in the NHL. Now look at some of the other picks from that first round: Paul Kariya (#4), Rob Neidermayer (#5), Victor Kozlov (#6), Jason Arnott, Saku Koivu, etc…

With the exception of the 1998 draft (which netted 4 members of the 2004 Stanley Cup championship roster), this was pretty much a lather-rinse-repeat thing for Phil Esposito as a GM at the draft… So basically the Lightning building a winner was set back from the start with a GM that was focused on the short-term instead of the long-term.

Not to say the same kind of goofs haven’t happened with Rick Dudley or Jay Feaster as GM, but Espo’s picks always seemed especially weak.

A true draft tragedy that did occure, however, was in 1997. A prospective ownership group (The Maloof family – who makes current ownership look like a class act group) was in negotiations to buy the team from the Lightning’s original Japanese owner but… well, wanted a test drive. They had one of their people involved in the draft and ended up sticking his hand in the cookie jar regarding the team makeup. The worst part about it is, the Maloofs didn’t even end up buying the Lightning. How can you let a prospective suitor control the future of the team before they’ve even decided to buy?

Soapbox Time

Feel free to add whatever else you'd like about the Lightning and the NHL draft. How do you feel about the future of the franchise?

RAW CHARGE: Ah, the NHL Draft… The grand spectacle of civic ass-kissing by 30 GM’s and Gary Bettman! Everyone has to get a cheap pop from those in attendance by saying how much they love the host city and yada-yada-yada… Compelling entertainment if I ever saw it! And what better way to spend your time than watching Bettman’s 5 dollar smirk as he reads the names of players he has no clue about! Transfixing!

Yeah, I gots me some problems with the NHL draft and how it’s conducted. How could you tell?

As for the Bolts and their future ... well, lets just say that if things fall through, We’ll be seeing the entire roster off’ed in Saw 7. And if the opposite happens, they’ll be awarded their own CBS sitcom, “Seen Stamkos? – The Series!”

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