This will be the last mailbag column before your humble correspondent goes on a week's break; some of my distinguished colleagues will be stepping in to help out until I'm back.
On the chat boards way down here in Tampa, we appear to be polarized into two camps.
Camp 1: Jay Feaster is the best GM ever and John Tortorella is a genius coach.
Camp 2: Feaster is unable to make the necessary decisions to make the Lightning competitive again and Tortorella is a mean-spirited jerk of a coach and is losing the respect of the players with ridiculous outbursts.
Rarely do you find chatter that says keep one/give the other one the boot.
I am just wondering what the experts think of this situation?
I'd probably pitch my tent in Camp 2, although I don't think I'd categorize Feaster as being unable to make the necessary decisions to better the Bolts. I think he honestly believes that, because he won a Stanley Cup with the Â“Big ThreeÂ” (Lecavalier, St-Louis and Richards), he can do so again.
But, as you may be aware by all the wisecracks I make about Tortorella, I'm no fan of the coach. He's like any other whip-cracker in the league, in that he's got a shelf life of about three years before the players start tuning him out. Tortorella just about lost the dressing room last season, before an ultimatum by Feaster frightened the Big Three into turning their season around.
This year, the Lightning have the same average blueline, the same average goaltending, and more or less the same forward unit. The biggest difference I see is the absence of associate coach Craig Ramsay, who often was a mediator between Tortorella and the players. With Ramsay gone, the potential for disaster has increased dramatically, and so too the likelihood of another meek, first-round playoff exit Â– if they qualify for the post-season at all, and I don't think that's a certainty by any means.
With The Toronto Maple Leafs getting Vesa Toskala, Jason Blake, Mark Bell and the fact Buffalo got a lot worse and Ottawa lost one of their core defenseman in Tom Preissing and losing Mike Comrie, do you think Toronto is now a playoff team?
I think Toronto does make the playoffs this year, but not because Buffalo or Ottawa aren't necessarily as good. Certainly, the Sabres won't be running away with the President's Trophy, but the way their young players stepped up last season when other players went down to injury, it's fair to assume they'll still be a playoff team.
Same with the Senators; Preissing is more of a loss to them than Comrie, but Ottawa's defense was so deep to begin with, it'll likely mean more time for Christoph Schubert. I think the Sens win the Northeast Division hands-down.
As for the Leafs, there's no denying Toskala is an upgrade on J-S Aubin, and that Blake will help the team's offense, penalty kill and overall sandpaper factor. But Bell is another in a long line of John Ferguson reclamation projects, and there are still way too many pluggers of the Chad Kilger/Bates Battaglia/Boyd Devereaux variety to label them as Cup contenders.
I'm a Ranger fan and I noticed how, in your Screen Shots column about the Flyers, you listed the Rangers, Penguins and Senators as the teams to beat in the East.
In your estimation, are the Rangers the favorites? Are they the most talented? I think the Penguins have greater talent but the Rangers might be in a better position to win next year due to having veterans and a better goalie. As for the Sens, they're extremely talented but I'm not sure they're going as far as they did this year.
If I were ranking them today, I'd make the Sens the Eastern favorites, followed by the Rangers, then the Penguins.
Ottawa is basically the same team that won the East, so they get the benefit of the doubt; the Rangers have a wellspring of offensive talent and added key leadership in Drury, which, along with another standout performance by Henrik Lundqvist in net, will help them overcome their non-descript defense corps; and the Pens are still going through some growing pains Â– especially goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who will face more pressure than ever to find the consistency that has eluded him so far in his career Â– but they'll still be pretty damn good, too.
I am a big hockey fan from Mexico and I love the Penguins. Having said that I am a little worried about the future of the Pens. Is there any way we can keep Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby for the long run?
I know it is going to be a long while before they become unrestricted free agents, but what Edmonton did to try and get Thomas Vanek got me thinking that a lot of teams will make a run for those three when they become restricted free agents, so is there any way this team can stick together? Keeping in mind you have to make quality offers to players like Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik and so on.
And my last questions: what chances do you think they have to make a run for Lord Stanley Â– and do you think Angelo Esposito has a shot to make the team?
Thanks a lot Adam,
Rodrigo Mendez, Mexico City
Nice to get an email from Mexico. If it's hard to find hockey on TV in the U.S. these days, I can't imagine what you have to go through to watch a game where you live. Good on you for sticking with it.
Although they just locked up Sidney Crosby for five more years, the Penguins soon will be facing the dilemma the Lightning continue to labor under right now. I can't see how they'll be able to hang on to all the players you mentioned without leaving them zero flexibility to go out and acquire the complimentary, Â“glue guyÂ”-types that still are needed to win a championship.
That said, you should expect an improved regular-season showing from the Pens this year, as well as a first-round playoff series victory. But a Stanley Cup is probably too much to ask for from a team this young.
I'd bet Esposito spends the year back in the Quebec League. Part of that decision will be hockey-based, but it also will be because of the financial ramifications that might lead to him being another unrestricted free agent at a very young age. On this team, especially, that's a headache GM Ray Shero doesn't need.
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