Trader Rick

By Ron Hoover
The Rick Dudley era in Tampa has been an adventure when it comes to draft day. The Lightning G.M. has yet to make a selection in the teams correct slot, despite having two consecutive top three picks, electing instead to make deals for more immediate help.
Both of the previous draft day maneuvers resulted in the Bolts acquiring a young, talented “starting” goaltender. Or so they thought. Dan Cloutier was picked up from the N.Y. Rangers in 1999 along with Niklas Sundstrom and a couple of picks after Dudley had previously made a deal with Chicago for their pick. Sundstrom was subsequently dealt to the Sharks in a deal that brought four players to the team, of which only Andrei Zyuzin remains.

Cloutier struggled after having to take over prematurely for an injured Daren Puppa as the starter. The consensus was that Dan just wasn’t ready to carry that load and the team announced they would attempt to get a veteran netminder to lug the mail until Cloutier was ready.

Opting to ignore free agency, Dudley got another goalie with his second consecutive draft day deal. Instead of the veteran that he had earlier told season ticket holders they would go after, he chose to trade away the number one overall pick to the Islanders for another young backup Kevin Weekes.

Cloutier has since been traded and Weekes is apparently not the answer either despite playing strong at the end of last season. The Bolts made a deal for veteran Nikolai Khabibulin which should pretty much seal Weekes fate as a starter in Tampa

Needless to say, Lightning fans are not too thrilled with the deals made in the last two drafts. Not only did Cloutier not work out but that deal left Tampa Bay without a first round selection in that draft. Their first selection came in the second round and with it they chose Sheldon Keefe who is now suspended by the team and appears to be a lost cause.

Last years deal for Weekes may not be a bust just yet however. Rumors are swirling around the league regarding trades in this upcoming draft. with several teams at the top of the draft wanting to possibly deal, Dudley may be able to use Weekes as bait to make his third straight first round deal.

The Lightning lost the lottery and have the third overall selection in a draft many thought was a two-horse race. Dudley doesn’t necessarily agree with that. He feels the draft is deeper than that. With Jason Spezza’s stock sagging after a sub-par playoffs, a couple of other players used the tournament to turn some heads. One of which is Stephen Weiss.

Dudley’s love of European players could come into play also. Even if the draft goes as slotted, the bolts could use the third selection on Russian center Alex Svitov. Svitov would not be a reach with the third pick and his size meets the Lightning’s needs right now.

Even if other teams don’t jostle positions, Dudley may pull the trigger again and move down. Looking for a combination of size and skill he has some decent choices if he doesn’t have to drop too far down into the first round.

Players who should be available and are legitimate top seven or eight picks are Finnish forwards Mikko Koivu and Tuomo Ruutu. Both posess the size and skill that Dudley covets. Another player who should be around then but is a slight reach is Ohio State center R.J. Umberger. R.J. is a year older but whether or not he would leave school is debatable.

From what I hear through the grapevine, look for deals to be made. I seriously doubt that the top five picks will go as scheduled. Will the Lighting be one of those teams making moves? It’s hard to tell at this point. If history is any indication though, they just may be in the mix.

Atlanta looks to be the team most likely to be ringing Dudley’s ever present cell phone next week. They need a netminder bad and with Khabibulin in a Lightning uniform, Kevin Weekes could be had. He becomes a restricted free agent this summer. Although the team says they like the tandem in net, it is as strong as any in the league, and will split playing time, you don’t acquire a goalie of Khabibulin’s stature so he can play 50-55 games.

The Bolt’s need a veteran winger that can score to help out their talented but young forwards. Although Atlanta is not stocked with snipers someone such as Andrew Brunette may be appealing. Stay tuned folks. The one constant that Tampa Bay drafts have is inconsistancy.