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A lock or a scramble?
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published September 9, 2007
You can make a good case the Lightning has the stuff to challenge for the Eastern Conference championship. You also can argue it has so little of one crucial element, the season will be another scramble to make the playoffs.
It is a classic half-empty, half-full showdown, and it will be played out beginning with the team's 15th training camp that gets rolling Thursday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.
What are the biggest concerns? Here are 10 burning questions
What's with the goalies?
Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist were really bad at times last season, and statistically they were among the worst. Karri Ramo played 70 minutes, but it was Denis and Holmqvist who were most responsible for the team's .884 save percentage, last in the league, and a 3.11 goals-against average that was 24th. Holmqvist, with 27 regular-season victories, showed promise, though he couldn't carry the team in the playoffs. Denis is the bigger concern. If Tampa Bay could have dealt him over the summer it would have, but his $2.8-million salary wiped out any market value. Now it hopes he resurrects his career. If not, the team, which probably needs only average goaltending a .900 save percentage to be a contender, could start with Holmqvist and rookie Ramo.
60 for Vinny?
Vinny Lecavalier took his place as one of the NHL's top players with a league-high 52 goals and career-high 108 points. But superstars, no matter how skilled (and Lecavalier's skills are awesome) aren't made in one season. Good thing he has Marty St. Louis on his line. Even Lecavalier admitted the right wing, who forced Lecavalier to skate hard simply to keep up on offense and defense, was a big part of his success.
Will the other Vinny get real?
That would be Vinny Prospal, whose 14 goals were his fewest since 2000-01 and 55 points were 25 fewer than 2005-06. Imagine if the left wing gets on the same page as linemates Lecavalier and St. Louis. Wow.
What's in store for Brad Richards?
The center starts with Jan Hlavac on his left and Michel Ouellet on his right. The hope is they convert into goals more of the passes that last season were wasted by Eric Perrin and Ruslan Fedotenko. If so, Richards, with 70 points last season, gets back to 90.
Is there more to Dan Boyle?
There might be. The defenseman is coming off his first 20-goal season and showed up for early skating with clearly more upper-body muscle. Oh, and he can be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Ka-ching.
What about there built defense?
Brad Lukowich is back and Paul Ranger, Filip Kuba, Shane O'Brien and Doug Janik should be better with another year of experience. How much will losing Cory Sarich and Nolan Pratt hurt? And who wins the seventh spot - Dan Jancevski or Matt Smaby, perhaps?
Will Gratton pay off?
Acquiring Chris Gratton could be the most important move of the summer. If he scores his usual 14-19 goals and wins his usual 50 percent of faceoffs, Tampa Bay will have its most productive third-line center since, well, Chris Gratton in 1995-96.
Will Ryan Craig regain his position?
The forward got a wakeup call when left off the top four lines heading into camp. Craig better prove his balky right knee is okay and he can be a more consistent scorer because Craig MacDonald is going to get every chance to make the team.
Where does Andreas Karlsson fit?
After struggling as a fourth-line center, Karlsson showed upside in the playoffs as a wing on Richards' second line. He starts this season as a third-line right wing, providing skill to grinders Gratton and Jason Ward.