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Analysis: Lightning sign Vrbata, but what about the defense?

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The new owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning are clearly onto something here. Oren Koules and Len Barrie are out to prove that it’s possible to win in the NHL with almost no defense and negligible goaltending.

Must have something to do with Barrie, who once scored 185 points in junior hockey, but didn’t even know his own goalie’s name.

How else do you explain the Lightning’s decision to give Radim Vrbata a roughly 140 percent raise with a three-year deal worth $9 million? Yes, that’s probably the going rate for a 27-goal scorer, but did the Lightning check that prior to this season, Vrbata had only once scored more than 15 at the NHL level?

And did they check to see whether or not he plays defense?

So let’s get this straight. The Lightning finished last overall this season, largely because they went most of the season with a defense corps and goaltending that would have had trouble competing at the AHL level.

Then they go out and address their needs by drafting Steven Stamkos first overall, trading for a soft-but-productive Vaclav Prospal and giving him a four-year deal, signing forwards Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts, chasing Brian Rolston, and now signing Vrbata for three years.

All the while there are rumblings that, in order to meet their budget, they may have to trade Dan Boyle, one of the few defensemen they have who’s capable of playing at the NHL level.

Sure makes a guy wonder. Not to worry, however. Barry Melrose, who hasn’t coached an NHL game in almost 5,000 days and wasn’t a terribly strong technical coach in the first place, will whip this defense into shape.

Of course, what else were they to do when they missed out on getting Bryce Salvador? Clinging to the notion that you can never have too many fifth defensemen, the Devils managed to keep Salvador in the fold with a four-year deal worth $2.9 million per season.

It’s one of those deals that you look at and upon first blush, you say, “Whaaaaaa?!!!!”

Then you look at the deal a little more closely, contemplate what it all means and then you say, “Whaaaaaaa?!!!”

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