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10 Lightning questions entering camp

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

Anyone with answers to these questions as the Lightning prepares for Thursday's camp should call either coach John Tortorella or general manager Jay Feaster at (813) ... Just kidding.

Can Tortorella and Vinny Lecavalier find common ground?

Tortorella said it is nothing personal between him and the talented but underachieving center. To Tortorella, his hard line with Lecavalier is just coaching. To Lecavalier, last season's decreased playing time and the loss of his captaincy represented a coach who did not believe in him. For this team to succeed, they must get on the same page.

Is Kevin Hodson really the answer?

Hodson is the only goalie in camp with credentials to back up Nikolai Khabibulin. The lack of competition is surprising because Tortorella has detailed the position's importance: 16 to 20 games and a possible 18 to 20 points. Hodson has not played an NHL game since February 2000, when he and the Lightning were embarrassed 8-0 by the Sharks. He is a terrific guy and great in the locker room, and, at $200,000, his price is right.

Who will emerge at right wing?

If Martin St. Louis' broken right leg is 100 percent, expect him on the No. 1 line. From there, it is a free-for-all with Shane Willis, Ben Clymer, Nikita Alexeev and Sheldon Keefe battling for No. 2, with Willis the presumed front-runner.

Where does Vinny Prospal fit in?

This could be the most intriguing personnel decision of camp. Prospal is a natural center but played well at wing last season, when he had 18 goals, tied a personal best with 55 points and set a personal high with 37 assists. If Willis falters, Prospal could be deep in that mix, especially considering the Lightning's depth at center.

Can Alexander Svitov really contribute?

Tampa Bay loves the rookie center's size (6 feet 3, 200), defensive sensibility and wrist shot. But most of all, it loves his mean streak, and that is what Svitov, 19, likely will contribute most as he gets his NHL legs. Look for the Russian native to fight for a fourth-line position. Anything more will be gravy.

Have all the injuries healed?

Not enough attention was paid last season to the effect of serious injuries to key players. Forwards St. Louis, Fredrik Modin, Tim Taylor and Brian Holzinger, and defenseman Nolan Pratt missed a combined 181 games. Early reports are good, though Taylor said his torn groin is still cranky, but nothing will be known until bodies are stressed on the ice.

What does Ruslan Fedotenko bring?

Feaster said the left wing could score 20 to 25 goals and has a defensive awareness that could make him an attractive addition to Lecavalier's line. But goals are what Tampa Bay needs most, and Fedotenko scored 16 and 17 in two seasons with the Flyers. Feaster took some heat when he traded the No. 4 pick in the draft for Fedotenko and two second-round choices, but Fedotenko's agent, Dave Schatia, said his client "will prove the wisdom of Jay Feaster. I have no doubt."

What is the Lightning's payroll?

Too early to tell because of cuts to take place during camp and players who may be lost in the waiver draft or through trade. An educated guess for a 22-man roster (13 skaters, seven defensemen and two goaltenders) is between $29-million and $31-million, which includes $2.7-million in signing bonuses. That would be an increase of between $3-million and $5-million, though it still leaves the team well short of last season's average payroll of $38-million.

What it means though is Feaster held up his end of the bargain by re-signing key players and making moves that could be significant without breaking the bank. That, in theory, gives him a better chance of getting the okay from ownership to land a more expensive player in the future, most likely through trade. We'll see.

Is Pavel Kubina ready to step up?

The defenseman has played 299 NHL games and is the team's second-highest paid player. It is time for results. Kubina, starting his fifth full season, has a booming slap shot and wants to be a differencemaker. The Lightning wants him to be more physical and to pay attention to defensive details that sometimes get lost in an offensive shuffle.

Can this team make the playoffs?

It needs a jump of at least 16 points from last season's 69 to have a chance. Much of that can be found in last season's 19 one-goal losses. Let's see what Fedotenko brings and if Lecavalier, Willis, Modin and St. Louis are poised for resurgent seasons before making any predictions.


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