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Feaster must turn smoke into fire for teetering team
It's past time for Lightning to deal.
By GARY SHELTON
Published December 20, 2006
This just in: Nothing.
In the latest in a series of days spent standing pat, the Lightning failed to make a trade Tuesday. Maybe you didn't hear about it.
Despite its flaws, the Lightning did not bring in a ferocious de-fenseman. Again. Despite its shortcomings, it did not trade for a more dependable goaltender. Again. Despite a season that has gone wrong, Tampa Bay did not rescue itself. One more time.
And so it continues, this jagged streak of disappointment that is the Lightning. As a team, it is not productive enough on the ice. As a franchise, it is not productive enough in the front office.
It is Jay Feaster's season now. The team he assembled has not approached expectations, and now, as general manager, it is up to him to fix things. You can blame whomever you wish for the mess that is this season, and you can attach whichever name to whatever blame you want.
As of now, however, Feaster is the most important member of the organization. If this season is to be salvaged, or if it is not, it is because of him.
Oh, and if you check your watch closely, you will discover that it is far, far past time for Feaster to make a deal.
These days, the Lightning isn't just an underachieving team; it is a poor one. Before Tuesday night's win, the Lightning had only one victory in nine tries. Not only is Tampa Bay out of the playoff picture; the Lightning wouldn't even make the playoffs if the NHL went to a 24-team postseason.
The defense looks like the Bucs' secondary. The goaltending looks like the Rays' bullpen. The power play doesn't have any, and the penalty kill is killing this team. From here, you can see the drain.
All of which leads us past the mask, beyond the sticks and into Feaster's office, where the talk about trades has been too loud and the actual making of them has been too quiet.
There was a time, remember, when Feaster expected great things of this team. Back before we all saw Marc Denis in goal, back before Paul Ranger and Cory Sarich began to struggle so mightily on defense, Feaster didn't blush as he talked about competing for the Eastern Conference championship.
Maybe Feaster was wrong then. Maybe he was wrong when he assembled this team. Maybe he was wrong to give so much of the payroll to three offensive players rather than spread the wealth. (An admission: I thought the signings of Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards were all good ideas. You did, too.) Maybe Feaster deserves the heat he is getting. When a team struggles, a general manager deserves his share of the unhappiness.
Still, it is time for change. The Lightning has now played 116 regular-season games since winning the Stanley Cup. What we have seen this season is what this team is now. It is a team with tremendous talents and tremendous flaws. It is an incomplete team, and usually, such teams end up as complete disappointments.
You know the scary thing? The team's stars - St. Louis, Lecavalier and, as of late, Richards - are playing their fannies off. Not even their critics could ask more of them. And still, the team cannot win. What happens when a slump comes? What happens if an injury happens? Who is going to score then? Tim Rattay?
At this rate, St. Louis will finish the season with 109 points, and Lecavalier will have 106. As for the Lightning, it will finish seven games under .500. Oh.
All of which means Feaster has some work to do in the days ahead. Officially, the NHL enters a no-trade zone today, but once Christmas is over, Feaster needs to make a deal. Maybe a couple.
Oh, it isn't easy. The salary cap blows up most proposed trades, which is why the league has had so few this year. Besides, if a team has a talented defenseman, it tends to hold onto him with both hands.
For Feaster, the tougher task is this. Before he can make the trade he wants, he might have to make a couple of smaller ones to clear out cap room. For instance, say he could trade Ruslan Fedotenko for a mobile defender. Before he could make the numbers work, however, he might have to move Vinny Prospal and his contract to clear space. And so on.
Regardless, it is time to move. Left on its own, the Lightning might get better. Denis has shown he can play better than this. Dan Boyle will pick it up. Sarich, perhaps. Maybe this team goes on a run and sneaks into the playoffs again.
For the franchise to be taken seriously again, however, it has to have some help. It has to make the kind of trade it did in 2004 when it brought Darryl Sydor in. To be a big deal, it has to make a big deal.