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Lightning sacrifices finesse for toughness
Andre Roy, Nick Tarnasky and Shane O'Brien represent a change in philosophy.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published February 27, 2007
Here is the type of player Lightning general manager Jay Feaster hopes to land before today's 3 p.m. trade deadline:
A good skater with a nose for the puck. Tough, feisty, a disturber, someone not afraid to use his body on the forecheck and grind in the corners. If he chips in offensively on the third or fourth line, so much the better.
Even if Feaster stands pat, he has started transforming the personality of the team from one that relied almost solely on skill and finesse to one that complements its silk with sandpaper.
"I want to get tougher," Feaster said Monday. "I want us to be a harder team to play against. I want us to grind more."
And he doesn't want his team caught short as the league's parameters of physical play are redefined and fighting is up 10 percent.
The process began in December with the acquisition of tough guy Andre Roy. It continued Saturday with a trade for rugged defenseman Shane O'Brien.
Wing Nick Tarnasky has thrown his weight around. Forward Kyle Wanvig, another trade acquisition, can do that, too.
And if Evgeny Artyukhin is re-signed after a year in Russia, Tampa Bay will add a formidable physical presence.
"But you have to be able to play," Feaster said. "It's about guys who can play 15, 16, 17 minutes on any given night. That's the direction we want to go."
Left wing Marty Gelinas, whom the fading Panthers want to trade, fits the profile. He won't pile up penalty minutes. But he skates, is difficult to knock off the puck and has a knack for timely goals.
Feaster declined to discuss specific players but was candid about Tampa Bay's restructuring.
When the NHL announced before last season its crackdown on obstruction, Feaster said the perception was fleeter, more skilled forwards could be used even on traditionally scrappy third and fourth lines.
But with the crackdown enforced most fervently in front of the net and below the hash marks a boon to skilled puck-handlers and shooters and a curse on defensemen, grinding, hard-checking forwards who retrieve pucks in the corners and wear you down with physical play are regaining status.
Feaster admitted the Lightning did not have enough: "We believed the NHL that they were serious about how the games were going to be called. We looked at the third and fourth lines and said, 'Here's an opportunity for maybe some skill guys to come in and be more productive,' and certainly that's true. But as we look at it now, it's not the direction we feel is best for our hockey club.
"We want our forwards to have an attitude. We want them to skate and get in on the forecheck and hit people. We've not necessarily had the personnel to do it."
Transforming the Lightning occurs as the league goes through its own metamorphosis.
Through 939 games entering Monday, 774 fighting majors were called compared with 703 last season in the same period. Feaster said he is not sure what is causing the spike, especially after stories earlier this season that players backed off physical play because of the obstruction crackdown.
O'Brien, acquired from the Ducks, who lead the league with 56 fighting majors, said perhaps players finally are gauging what is allowed. As a result, he said, "Maybe the guys are getting away with cheap shots and some guys are getting upset.
"It's not how hockey used to be, but you need a little bit of toughness. In Anaheim, our skill guys didn't have to worry about anything. We had guys who could answer the bell. Now we have them in Tampa."