Too Deep on D?

By Megan Sexton

That’s a foreign concept to the Tampa Bay Lightning and their fans. The Bolts are just grasping the need for depth and beginning to acquire it. Now, to tell them their blueline is too deep is likely to daze and confuse them.

The notion of excessive prospects in the Tampa Bay organization is a rare one, but it is a challenge that the team is currently experiencing and one that could case a major traffic jam in the system. A shared affiliation, enough veterans to fill the big club and a few too many defensive prospects has gotten the Bolts in quite a predicament that will have to be rectified–soon.

Due to the dual affiliation between Phoenix and Tampa Bay, the Lightning can only place ten prospects with their AHL affiliate in Springfield. The rest will have to go down to the ECHL and even the UHL. Last season, this situation would have been ideal for the baby Bolts, who played much of the season with virtually half a team. As GM Rick Dudley trudges on with Tampa Bay’s rebuilding process, he continues to add quality prospects to the system, hence our dilemma.

For the first time in the Davidson era, the Lightning are able to fill their blueline with–get this–NHL-quality players. Of course they don’t have a Stevens or a Pronger or even a Hamrlik, but they are not playing with three and four rookies either, as they were forced to do in past years. Off-season additions have pushed the rookies down the depth chart to the minor leagues, where they belong.

The season began with relative ease: Mike Jones arrived to camp with heel fractures, sidelining him for at least two months. Injuries allowed prospects Kristian Kudroc and Mathieu Biron time in Tampa Bay, while Kyle Kos earned a spot in Springfield (AHL) and Marek Priechodsky headed to Pensacola (ECHL).

Everything fit until Andrei Zyuzin found himself serving popcorn in the press box more nights than not and was shipped to New Jersey. In return, the Lightning acquired two top defensive prospects from the Devils, Sasha Goc and Joseph Boumedienne.

Houston, we have a problem.

With Cory Sarich injured and Goc and Boumedienne taking turns watching from the stands, everything worked out. Now, Sarich is ready to return from injury and soon Jones will be also. That puts Biron, Kudroc, Goc, Boumedienne, Jones and Kos battling each other for a spot in Springfield. All the aforementioned are at the skill level to play in the AHL. They will take turns serving stints in Tampa Bay to fill in for injuries, but that still will push someone down to the ECHL.

Kos is the most likely candidate for a demotion. Since being drafted in 1997, he has done little in the way of proving himself and could easily find himself without a contract renewal. Jones, in only his sophomore season, struggled last year along with the entire team in Detroit (IHL). Some time in Pensacola couldn’t hurt his development, especially after com ing off an injury. That still leaves Biron, Kudroc, Goc and Boumedienne. While they could juggle the four around, bouncing them between Springfield and Tampa Bay, a more logical scenario would be a trade. With as many defensive prospects as the Bolts have, inevitably some will have to go. So why not trade the quantity for some quality?

The Lightning have enough top prospects to pull in decent help in one of the many areas where the team is still lacking. For once, they can afford to part with a piece of the future, and make the future now. They should take advantage of that opportunity.