Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NHL: Tampa Bay buys out Propsal, owners further confirm status as laughing stock of NHL

The Tampa Bay Lightning have bought out the remaining three years of winger Vaclav Prospal's contract. The move will cost $1.16M/yr on the Lightning's cap for the next six years. Team management stated that the ~$2M in cap savings will be used to sign another player.

Upon hearing this news I decided to evaluate the state of the Lightning franchise...

Oren Koules, left, and Len Barrie, right, purchased the Tampa Bay Lightning in May 2008 chock full of wide-eyed giddiness and an insatiable competitive hunger. They were determined to turn 2008's cellar dwellers into contenders.

Tampa Bay certainly had some good pieces to build around, with star center Vincent Lecavalier, diminutive winger Martin St. Louis, and June 2008 draft pick Steven Stamkos topping the list. From there, Koules, Barrie, and GM Brian Lawton saw it fit to add some complementary pieces in the way of free agent signings Ryan Malone, Vaclav Prospal, Radim Vrbata, Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, Adam Hall, Olaf Kolzig and trade acquisitions Andrej Meszaros and Lukas Krajicek. Long-time Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle was then re-signed to a six-year contract worth over $6M a season and subsequently flipped to San Jose for prospect Ty Wishart and some draft picks. If all this wasn't enough, the front office also fired head coach John Tortarella, replacing him with enviable mullet man Barry Melrose. The stage was set for a successful 2008-2009, because after all, Stanley Cup contenders are made through marginal free agent signings and significant year to year roster turnover.

Not quite. Tampa Bay had a horrible 2008-2009 season, finishing poor enough to accrue the second overall pick in the 2009 draft. After a slow start to the year Tampa fired Barry Melrose and replaced him with ex-gambling convict Rick Tochett. Radim Vrbata left the team a quarter of the way through the season and was recently traded to Phoenix. Roberts retired before the end of the season. Recchi and Kolzig were dealt at the trade deadline. Prospal had a down year and just received his walking papers. Ryan Malone had a very slow start but was able to salvage the second half of his season to post his usual 25 goals. All in all, were any of the 2008 off-season moves a success? Malone is earning his contract, but beyond that the 2008 off-season was a cataclysmic failure. Moves made during the 2008-2009 season, which include re-signing Lecavalier to an astronomical 11-year contract and trading Jussi Jokinen to the division rival Carolina Hurricanes, do not look much better.

The Lightning have a couple superstars in Lecavalier and St. Louis and some budding stars in Stamkos and recently drafted Victor Hedman. Savvy ownership would be able to turn this team into a Stanley Cup contender in two or three seasons. Unfortunately, Len Barrie, Oren Koules, and Brian Lawton wouldn't cut the mustard in NHL 09's dynasty mode, let alone as the front office of an actual NHL team.

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