Two teams struggling to remain relevant in the playoff race meet tonight in Raleigh. The winner will still have a fighting chance; the loser's battle becomes that much more difficult. With that as a backdrop, we welcome in John Fontana of Raw Charge to the hot seat for another edition of Three Questions as the Lightning face the Hurricanes tonight.
With Ben Bishop's acquisition, who is the odd man out in goal for the Lightning? Are the Lightning brass convinced that Bishop is their man, and does the fact that he's now on his third team in two years raise any concerns?
I don’t think there is truly an odd-man-out in Tampa. Anders Lindback is injured at the moment with a high ankle sprain. This takes pressure off him to hastily return. Mathieu Garon, who has been getting the bulk of the starts since Lindback went down, is an unrestricted free agent after the season. The plan is to carry all three netminders until the season concludes. Garon will leave via free-agency and the Lindback/Bishop tandem (or Bishop/Lindback tandem, whatever you prefer) will be what the Lightning goes into next season.
Is management convinced "this is our guy"? No clue. Anyone saying that for a kid who has only made 36 starts in his NHL career is putting a lot of eggs into a rather dainty basket. Still, this is the second season in a row the Lightning was trying to get Bishop. When St. Louis put him on the market last year, the Lightning were one of the teams trying to get him… Steve Yzerman just didn’t want to give up a high second round draft choice to acquire him. Now he’s dealt from a position of strength – a skilled forward – and a 4th round draft pick to bring him in. Higher price, in my opinion, but they got the guy they were originally after.
My big concern isn’t the fact that Bishop is playing on his third team now, it’s about the team he has gone to and the track record for goalies playing in Tampa. A lot of players with ability have come through town only to be told to play a style they are not used to. That’s an issue of goalie coaching. Will Bishop be another netminder told to do something that ruins his level of competition or will he excel under it? I can’t tell you.
Steve Yzerman fired one of the last bullets in his arsenal when he dismissed Guy Boucher. Is his own fate tied at this point to the success or failure of Jon Cooper, or does he still have a little bit of rope left?
To be honest, I have no clue where he stands with ownership and how owner Jeff Vinik feels about his performance. Vinik is a hands-off owner. He’s not whispering in Yzerman’s ear that he wants a winner now, or that he doesn’t like the head coach or something. Yzerman is up to his own devices with those moves (though a good swath of knee-jerk reactions to moves of late have insinuated that Vinik must be involved because people don’t understand the moves, or they come off like a "win or else" type move).
Clark Brooks, one of the writers over at Raw Charge, saw the hiring of Jon Cooper as buying Yzerman more time and taking the pressure off him. Cooper has had a strong relationship with many of the AHL players the Lightning were carrying, players who will be vying for roster spots next fall (and who held their own at the NHL level with the club). If Cooper fails to win with those players, if Cooper fails to compete, that’s when Yzerman truly goes on to the hot seat… Well, at least in my opinion.
It seemed like the Lightning were stuck in much the same spot as the Hurricanes, an underachieving team that didn't want to be true sellers but couldn't justify being buyers. Is the fact that the Lightning mostly stood pat, the Bishop deal aside, an admission that this season is pretty much a lost cause or a statement that Yzerman feels the group in the locker room can turn things around?
The latter much more than the former. Forget about the trade deadline for a minute but think of trade season in general: how many teams were truly sellers this year? Those who have underperforming rosters – the Lightning, the Hurricanes, others – didn’t just throw in the towel weeks ago leading up to the deadline. This was a seller's market, too.
What feels like the truth in this situation is that giving in, giving up and giving away assets at the deadline over an abbreviated season just doesn’t seem right. If there are issues with members of the Lightning roster, the Bolts will likely address them in the off-season with makes on 2013-14.