After an off-season of change, the Lightning are off to a 5-7-5 start. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Ever since the Tampa Bay Lightning were taken over by new ownership last June, they’ve made numerous roster moves, but so far those moves have failed to improve their on-ice fortunes.
After turning over nearly half the roster during the off-season GM Brian Lawton has spent the past month-and-a-half attempting to further bolster his struggling team.
Since October, Lawton peddled defenseman Shane O’Brien to Vancouver for Lukas Krajicek, signed free agent blueliner Marek Malik and dealt young D-man Matt Carle – the centerpiece of their return from the San Jose Sharks in the Dan Boyle transaction last summer – to Philadelphia for defenseman Steve Eminger and pesky right winger Steve Downie.
One of the reasons given for the Carle move was to reduce payroll, but if the Lightning hadn’t engaged in an orgy of free agent signings this past summer they wouldn’t have had to give up on young Carle so soon.
Off-season acquisitions Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts and Radim Vrbata are playing poorly and 2008 first overall pick Steven Stamkos has only scored four points in his first 17 NHL games.
Rumors abound the players - especially stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis - were unhappy with head coach Barry Melrose and complained not just to Lawton, but also to new Lightning co-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie.
Regardless of the validity of that speculation, Melrose was fired after only 16 games and replaced with assistant coach Rick Tocchet.
It remains to be seen if Tocchet is the tonic the Lightning needs, however this team needs stability if it has any chance of improving during the year. If recent rumors are to be believed, more changes could be in the offing.
The Lightning are reportedly among ten teams that have contacted the agent for unrestricted free agent center Mats Sundin to express interest in the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain.
A struggling club like Tampa Bay is probably not on Sundin’s short-list of preferred destinations. The Bolts also lack sufficient cap space to afford what could be his rumored asking price of $7 million.
The desire to reduce payroll could be the motivation behind a recent Ottawa Sun report about Lawton rumoring he’s shopping around everyone except Lecavalier, St-Louis, Stamkos, and defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Paul Ranger.
Goaltender Mike Smith should also be on Lawton’s supposed list of untouchables, for without his scintillating performance thus far (4-4-4, 2.42 GAA and .930 SP) the Lightning would be in a much deeper hole.
With 12 points in 17 games, veteran right winger Mark Recchi has been among the few pleasant surprises for the Bolts thus far and he could have some trade value should Lawton decide to shop him.
Left winger Jussi Jokinen, oft-mentioned in off-season rumors, could once again become the subject of trade chatter.
Perhaps the best trade chip Lawton has is veteran goalie Olaf Kolzig, who’s been relegated to backup duty because of Smith’s strong play.
The New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche could be in the market for an experienced, affordable goaltender and Kolzig could be a more palatable choice than Chicago Blackhawks’ Nikolai Khabibulin and Edmonton Oilers’ Dwayne Roloson.
Whether or not Lawton is planning more moves remains to be seen, but Tampa Bay is likely to remain the focus of trade rumors for some time.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.
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