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Tampa Bay’s Blue Line Beginning to Take Shape

Posted By Greg Smith On Mar 19 2009 @ 1:49 pm In Tampa Bay Lightning | 1 Comment

Last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, 22-year-old defenseman Matt Lashoff, acquired from the Boston Bruins on March 4th, played over 22 minutes with 1 shot on net.

The former 2005 first rounder began his professional career in the 2005-06 season for the Providence Bruins (AHL) after a successful 3-year junior career with the Kitchener Rangers (OHL). Lashoff played 166 games in the minors, including 35 this year, prior to being traded to the Lightning.

Posting 1 assist and 10 penalty minutes in 16 games with the Bruins in this year, the highly-touted defenseman has never fully-blossomed into the NHL player that he was once touted to be. Since coming over in the Mark Recchi trade, Lashoff has only dressed in one game for Tampa, but has already showed promise and is being rewarded by his coach.Since Tampa’s backend has been nothing short of disappointing this season, Lashoff will be given quality minutes over the final 12 games of the season in order to prove his worth. Head Coach Rick Tocchet is not intending to put too much pressure on the youngster, but rather determine if/how he’ll fit in with the organization’s plans going forward.

After watching last night’s game, I can see why Lashoff was a first rounder and the Bolts hope he can play a monumental role in the top-6 group of defenseman next season. He’s a sizeable defenseman at 6-2, 205 pounds with a smooth-skating, puck moving style of play. Lashoff is capable of playing on special teams and see’s the ice very well. He’s known to have no glaring weaknesses in his game, but is not overly physical. Based on his OHL and AHL stats, he has the potential to be an all-around defenseman with strong offensive contributions.

If he can grasp hold of the opportunity to cement a roster spot for next season, there is no question that Tampa Bay will look better on paper then they did heading into this season. An injury-riddled campaign for many of Tampa’s defenseman, combined with players shuffling between the NHL and AHL, has resulted in 20 different players seeing at least 1 game this season. That was not something to be confident about for the organization, although if management can solidify the backend over the summer the future will hold more promise. Last summer, GM Brian Lawton and the ownership group seemed to forget that defence wins championships, as they loaded up on forwards from the free agent market.

With only two legitimate top-four blue line regards in Andrej Meszaros and Paul Ranger, management will likely dip their feet into the free agent market in search for another defenseman. They would benefit from signing a shutdown guy. I know that Brian Lawton loves Mike Komisarek, who he would’ve acquired if Vinny Lecavalier was sent to Montreal. Komisarek is an unrestricted free agent after this year and isn’t expected to begin contract talks with the Habs until the end of the season. It may be a stretch, but if the Canadiens fail to re-sign Komisarek, the Lightning may be tempted to take a run at him.

Aside from Meszaros, Ranger and Lashoff, the Lightning have most of their depth chart penciled in on defense. Cory Murphy and Lukas Krajicek have both made a strong case to be a part of Tampa’s blue line next fall. Murphy has posted 15 points in 25 games with the Lightning and at 31 years old brings leadership and experience to a young backend. He only has a cap hit of $412,500 this season and will need to be re-signed this summer. The 5-10, 185 pound Murphy also participated in the 2007 World Championships in Moscow, Russia where Canada won gold.

Lukas Krajicek is making a very reasonable $1.1 million this season and will also need to be re-signed this summer. The organization has high hopes for Krajicek, who just turned 26 last Wednesday. He looks to be entering the prime of his career after posting 14 points and 46 penalty minutes in 60 games so far this season. He has posted a plus/minus mark of -9 this season, but that isn’t reflected of his impressive play this season. Better suited as a third pairing defenseman, Krajicek could bump up to the second pairing on a weaker backend in Tampa.

Meszaros, Ranger, Murphy, Krajicek and Lashoff form a promising young group, with a couple of more roster spots up for grabs. Prospects Matt Smaby, Mike Lundin and Ty Wishart will be left do duke it out for the final 2 spots, while Noah Welch and Janne Niskala still need some fine tuning in the American Hockey League. Something gives me a hunch that a solid veteran defenseman needs to be brought in to have a calming effect in the dressing room.

I wasn’t going to mention this, but don’t look now – the Tampa Bay Lightning currently sit in 29th place in the entire league. Sitting 5 points ahead of last place-New York Islanders, Tampa looks poised to select second overall in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Okay…okay, I won’t go that for in predicting the future for this team, but there is no question the Lightning will get a quality prospect anywhere from 1-10 in the draft. It’s become a popular choice for the Bolts to draft super Swede Victor Hedman, who is a potential franchise defenseman with unbelievable skill. Hedman would be a perfect fit for a desperate Lightning team in need of talent, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Tampa has only 12 games left this season, in what has been a roller coaster ride up to this point. Take a deep breath fans and poise yourself for an active summer. It all starts at the draft and then comes the free agency. Let’s just hope management doesn’t unload their pockets to sign free agents in hopes of having a quick fix. Didn’t that just work out last summer? Where’s Radim Vrbata, Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi right now. I’ll leave you with some hope for next season (or at least my perception of what the backend could look like).






Prospects: Matt Smaby, Noah Welch, Ty Wishart

I may be overly optimistic about the future of this team, but don’t spoil my first bright spot as it pertains to the Lightning this season.

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