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Lightning general manager Jay Feaster went shopping for his team this weekend. His was a practical gift. A reasonably priced gift. Really, a perfect gift.
By John Romano
Published February 26, 2007
TAMPA - Even here, in the land of chipped teeth and split eyebrows, it is sometimes the thought that counts.
And so Lightning general manager Jay Feaster went shopping for his team this weekend. His was a practical gift. A reasonably priced gift. Really, a perfect gift.
He bought his guys a brute.
Isn't it sweet when someone cares enough to send the very beast?
Okay, so maybe newly acquired defenseman Shane O'Brien isn't a monster with a stick. He can skate, he can score, he can fit in well within a team concept.
O'Brien will add depth to Tampa Bay's defense, he will add a little more size and toughness and he will be insurance for the inevitable free-agent defections.
Eventually he will be all of those things, but, for now, he is this:
A message from management.
O'Brien is a sign from Feaster that he has seen enough promise in the past seven weeks to invest more heavily in today than in tomorrow.
"By not erasing anyone from the lineup and adding a big piece to this puzzle, management is saying you guys look like you have what it takes and we're trying to help you out," captain Tim Taylor said. "You look at his minutes, at his penalties, his points and you have to think this is a great addition.
"It's a vote of confidence in us."
Obviously, this is not on the same level as Atlanta getting Keith Tkachuk on Sunday. Or Nashville adding Peter Forsberg a couple of weeks ago.
This move was more of a tweak than a blockbuster. More along the lines of strategic than dramatic. It was meant to shore up a weakness while not straying too far from the organization's philosophical structure.
And maybe it was meant to avoid a previous oversight.
The Lightning, you may recall, was also in the market for defensive help around this time last season. There was talk Tampa Bay wanted another goaltender, there were rumors the Lightning needed another hand on the blue line.
Maybe it was because the prices seemed out of whack in 2006. Or maybe it was because Feaster wasn't convinced a deal would help. Whatever the reason, the GM declined to pull the trigger last season.
The Lightning would eventually limp to the finish line, then keel over in the first round of the playoffs against Ottawa.
"Last year, while we were trying to get something done and were in a lot of trade talks, I felt there was a little bit of a letdown when it didn't happen," Feaster said. "I think the guys were maybe saying, 'Ah, it would have been nice to have gotten something done.'
"They're watching what's going on, just like everybody else. They're looking to see, does management believe in us? Does ownership believe? I'm hopeful that's how they view this. That I believe in them."
To be honest, it took some convincing. Not so long ago, Feaster was considering plans to shed players instead of adding depth.
With ownership claiming losses in the millions, it was up to Feaster to decide whether the Lightning was going to recoup some money with postseason dates in April or whether it was more prudent to dump some salary in February.
The players have made it easier for the GM by going 17-4-1 and moving from the corner of desolation and despair to the top of the Southeast Division.
"They've earned the right to stay together," Feaster said. "And clearly they've put me in the mode of being a buyer here at the deadline."
Feaster may still be dealing today. O'Brien makes the Lightning tougher, but the team could still be more physical on the third and fourth lines.
The key, for a team in Tampa Bay's fiscal stranglehold, is to make sure any deal includes immediate help without bearing too much of a price down the line.
That's what makes the trade for O'Brien seem so enticing. He is young (23), low-salaried ($495,000) and still a restricted free agent. With Cory Sarich, Nolan Pratt, Doug Janik and Luke Richardson all due to be unrestricted free agents, O'Brien gives the Lightning a little more cost certainty on defense.
That he is offensive-minded and not afraid to throw a jab just means he will fit in perfectly around here. If Darryl Sydor brought the Lightning a needed dose of experience in 2004, O'Brien is expected to offer a touch of toughness.
"The guys know he's going to be back there and they know he's going to stand up for them," Feaster said. "He's going to have their back."
When you think about it, that's sort of what Feaster did this weekend.
He decided to fight for his team.
John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811 or email@example.com.
[Last modified February 25, 2007, 23:27:02]