St. Petersburg Times
Tampa Bay Lightning

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Lightning still covers the world

Even with its staff streamlined, Tampa Bay says it remains able to handle scouting.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002

TAMPA -- Imagine that, the Lightning was No. 1.

As far as general manager Jay Feaster was concerned, this was no time for a celebratory cigar or for waving a foam hand with an extended index finger.

No, the way Feaster saw it, Tampa Bay was engaging in way too much of a good thing. So one of his first moves after taking over for Rick Dudley, who resigned under pressure in February, was to slash the scouting budget.

In one swoop, the Lightning went from a league-high 24 scouts (nine full time) to 12 (eight full time).

"We had the most bloated and ridiculously large scouting staff in the NHL," Feaster said. "There's not a single team that has 24 scouts."

The average number of scouts listed in media guides for the other 29 teams is 12 1/2.

Still, the reduction seems startling, considering scouting has become a worldwide effort with team representatives traveling across Europe and deep into Russia to places like Cheljabinsk and Omsk.

But Lightning head scout Jake Goertzen said a streamlined operation will not hinder Tampa Bay's ability to go wherever it needs to find talent.

And Feaster said the $1-million savings in the hockey operations budget will go to player salaries.

"We're not the Colorado Avalanche. We're not the Philadelphia Flyers or the Detroit Red Wings in terms of the budget we have," Feaster said. "So, honestly, my question would be, why did you think you needed 24 people on your scouting staff when no one else in the National Hockey League does it?

"I guess we just figured out something that no one can understand, right?"

Goertzen said the restructuring did not affect Tampa Bay's scouting for this weekend's draft at Toronto's Air Canada Centre. Most reports already were filed and major tournaments played.

"How much it will affect us in the future, we'll have to wait and see," Goertzen said.

It also will be interesting to see if the Lightning's drafting priorities change.

Dudley was a big fan of European players, especially Russians. Feaster is partial to the grittier North American game but said his decision had nothing to do with shifting the team's scouting focus from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

"It has nothing to do with a style of player," he said. "It has everything to do with 24 guys."

Said Goertzen: "Jay wants some more grit, so our focus will shift a little in the way we make up our list, but that doesn't mean they can't come from Europe. It's not uncommon to go to a rink in Slovakia and see guys fight. Five years ago that was unheard of. They drop the gloves now because there are North Americans playing over there and there is TV and they want to play in the NHL."

Goertzen said streamlining has advantages. He said a core group of scouts was retained, duties have been clearly defined and efficiency has increased.

"We still will go to all the major tournaments even if they are in the outlying areas," he said. "If there's a good player, we will find him. Jay hasn't said, "Don't find the best players.' We'll still do that."

Goertzen admitted that fewer scouts may mean a diamond-in-the-rough prospect could be overlooked, but that also happens now.

"You can have 100 guys scouting and you will always miss something," he said. "I think we have a very good-sized staff right now as compared to the rest of the NHL. I haven't counted them up, but we're right in the middle of the pack. I am not concerned at all."

No one was going to miss Europe's top two prospects; Finnish defenseman Joni Pitkanen and Finnish goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

Pitkanen's stock with the Lightning is lessened only because the team's focus this season, generally, is on scoring forwards.

Lehtonen is so highly regarded that if the Lightning fails to trade the No. 4 overall pick, and he is available (very unlikely), Tampa Bay would strongly consider taking him.

For Feaster, that would be cause for celebration.

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