“…and the winner of the Steven Stamkos lottery is (drum roll please)…the TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING!”
Or are they?
Without question, the Lightning earned the right to select first in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft; first by playing really, really poorly this season, and then by winning the draft lottery. So now, for the first time since the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, there is some real hope they can begin taking steps to being a contender once again.
But is the first step choosing Stamkos, a junior star with the Sarnia Sting?
The undisputed favorite to be picked No. 1 is a slick-skating center in the mold of Steve Yzerman. Stamkos scored 58 goals and 105 points in 61 games this season in the Ontario League and had 11 goals in his first eight playoff games.
Given the way some kids have stepped into the NHL and made an immediate impact the past few years, you’d have to think he’d be the perfect candidate to slide into the No. 2 center position behind superstar Vinny Lecavalier in Tampa.
That would be the easy thing for Lightning GM Jay Feaster to do. But it would be the wrong thing to do. The wrong thing, that is, without first exploring other options. Feaster’s top priority must be to put the pick on the open market; see what it will fetch in a trade.
Start with the Los Angeles Kings and Atlanta Thrashers, the teams that are poised to pick second and third, respectively, to see what they’d sacrifice for the right to choose first. Two GMs who are under pressure to make their teams better – and gain a little positive publicity for themselves – might be inclined to dig a little deeper into their pockets to make a splash on draft day.
The reality is, while Stamkos is the odds-on choice to go No. 1, many believe there isn’t a whole lot of separation between him and defenseman Drew Doughty of the Guelph Storm and Zach Bogosian of the Peterborough Petes. So if the Lightning were to deal the pick and get an established No. 2 or 3 defenseman and a scoring winger to go with Doughty or Bogosian, they would be way ahead of the game.
And if the Kings and Thrashers aren’t interested, Feaster must explore other options. The further he goes up the ladder of the draft, the more assets teams may be willing to part with in terms of established players and draft picks.
Steven Stamkos is a wonderful hockey player, but he’s not Sidney Crosby or Eric Lindros or Mario Lemieux. He’ll be an asset to whichever team signs him, but where the Lightning is concerned, this is not about its immediate future, it’s about its potential to make one bold move that will ensure it has a realistic chance to move from the outhouse to within viewing distance of the penthouse.
This is a golden opportunity for Feaster to re-establish himself as a manager who can make a difference.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
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