Five (for Howling) Questions with Raw Charge about the Tampa Bay Lightning

Hi there Coyotes fans. It's getting ever closer to the beginning of the preseason and it's time to get back into hockey mode. NHL.com has been running their own 30 in 30days deal highlighting the teams around the league, so I thought it would be a good idea to check in with other SBNation sites about their teams and ask a few questions that Coyote fans might be interested in. For the first of these I talked to Cassie and John from Raw Charge about the Tampa Bay Lightning and how things look for Bolts fans this year.

You guys are in a similar boat as Coyote fans in that you've got a big ownership mess on your hands as well. Can you tell us a little bit about what's going on down in Tampa Bay?

The situation between the Coyotes and the Lightning are really quite different. Sure, money and ownership are at the root of both, but in Tampa's case, it's not bankruptcy that's at issue.  It's the ownership group itself.

OK Hockey Group - owners of the Lightning - burst onto the scene last summer in their first months of ownership, spending outrageously and making questionable player-personnel moves to compliment the spending.  It blew up in ownership's face with their hand-picked coach (Barry Melrose) being fired 16 games into the season and the team wavering between mediocre and horrid.  Somewhere during that stretch, a rift formed between principle owner Oren Koules and his partner, Len Barrie.

The NHL has been dictating terms of how the team is to operate because of this rift. At this time, Barrie has been given a 60-day window to buy out Koules, despite Koules having the majority holding - presumably because neither the NHL nor Koules believes that Barrie will be able to raise the money to buy Koules out. Once Barrie's window has passed, then Koules will be given the same 60-day opportunity.

The entire situation isn't as simple as what's been described -- and there is the issue of the hole that owners dug for themselves and the franchise that first summer of ownership with absurd contracts...  There is also the looming possibility of the group defaulting on a loan from previous owner Palace Sports and Entertainment...  It's an ugly sideshow that's following the Bolts around and clouding perceptions of this upcoming season.

Rick Tocchet is now your head Coach and with most of a season under his belt, what are your impressions of him as a head coach? Do you think he can be successful?

Our opinions vary:

John:  I think that the poorly conditioned roster (Barry Melrose did not believe in conditioning requirements...) as well as instability with the roster make up and front office leadership weighed down (if not downright ruined) any chance for Rick to succeed last season.

Cassie:  I don't have such a rosy opinion. After seeing how Dan Bylsma turned the Pittsburgh Penguins around in January, with less time than Rick Tocchet had as interim head coach of the Lightning starting in November, I have a lot of questions and not a lot of confidence.

John:  I believe that with a roster set to be ruled from the get-go by Tocchet and with the team aware of what's expected of them (conditioning wise and coaching wise) -- Tocchet can improve upon last season and find the stability (by way of better team health) his team lacked last year.  It'll ultimately be up to him to make the most of things this time around. Hopefully there will be no excuses, nor need for them.

Cassie:  I will admit that there was a lot of adversity surrounding the team with unstable management and ownership issues, as well as a revolving door on the locker room due to trades, waivers, and injuries. However, when Melrose had a better winning percentage in 16 games (.313 - 5-7-4) than Tocchet in 66 (.287 19-33-14), there's something not kosher about that. I wasn't expecting a playoff spot, but a good coach should make a team better, however marginally, even in challenging circumstances - not worse.

In closing, Rick has an opportunity to show everyone he's a good coach.  What remains to be seen is if he will or not.

The Lightning have picked up several good prospects over the last couple of drafts including Steven Stamkos and now Viktor Hedman. How will those players help bring the Bolts back into contention?

How?  They'll grow up and prove they can play in the NHL, silly!  Seriously, it's hard to say anything more than prospects need to grow into roles that were projected for them when they were drafted or acquired.  It'd be nice to have home-grown talent helping the team in the future, but besides being players that people grow up with - the greatest truth to how they'll help the Bolts will be for them to live up to their potential. 

Last year didn't end up going too well in a lot of respects for the Lightning, what things that happened either in the offseason, or just in general that make you optimistic for this year or beyond?

John:  It's what didn't happen during the off-season that really makes me more comfortable going forward... with how worried I was going into Summer with what could go down - a fire sale, with the Bolts dumping contracts for next to nothing in return -- I'm thrilled it didn'tgo down.  There was no fire sale, Vincent Lecavalier wasn't unloaded as we were told was a certainty from just about everyone in the media, and the Bolts didn't go out and sign Chris Chelios or make some other asinine signing.  They revamped the defense with Mattias Ohlund and Matt Walker along with other subtle-before-splashy moves.

Cassie: What I find the most comforting - strangely because I'm rather neutral about him so far - is the fact that Brian Lawton is in charge. He's the one running the ship for good or ill. It's not being run by committee, and it's not a plaything of the ownership. Once Lawton took sole control of the team, things settled down.

Season prediction time... How do you see Tampa doing this year? (Estimated record) Are there any specific players Coyote fans should be watching when we faceoff in the preseason?

Giving a record guess is just impossible.  I think they'll do better in overtime and the shootout...  it'll make a huge point difference as they suffered through a lot of one-goal loses (TB was 10-29 in 1-goal games last season.  5-18 in OT,  including the shootout).  They're poised to be on the cusp of the playoffs.  Not quite there, but close.  With a revamped defense and goaltender Mike Smith back and healthy, making those improvements isn't impossible at all.

It's also hard to gauge who to watch during these pre-season scrimmages with thanks to pre-season rosters not being set and the fact the Lightning will be playing five nights in a row.  There will be a lot of lineup shifts to compensate the tuckered-out lineup. 

There are guys on the bubble on defense to keep an eye on, including Matt Lashoff, Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby and others.  GM Brian Lawton has expressed plans to keep 8 defensemen during the season, and these guys are all going to be playing hard to make the team.  Meanwhile, also on defense, Kurtis Foster will be trying to prove he is still able to play after suffering a devastating  broken leg during a game for the Wild in the past.   Forward Dana Tyrell is said to be very entertaining and could make a push for a roster spot as well - so keep an eye on him.

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