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Mishkin's Moments - The Tanguay Signing and a Question - Who Will Join the Top Five?

by Dave Mishkin / Tampa Bay Lightning
In an offseason filled with significant signings, the Lightning just added one more to the list.  Skilled forward Alex Tanguay inked a one-year deal with the club on Tuesday and will fill a much-needed spot on one of the team’s top two lines.

In some ways, the Tanguay signing was the most satisfying deal for General Manager Brian Lawton.  As Lawton explained during the Lightning’s Fan Fest celebration last Saturday, Tanguay was a player that the team targeted early in the summer.  There were other clubs also in the hunt, but Tanguay, after several months of mulling potential destinations, ultimately chose the Lightning.

The Lightning have been up front about their desire to land a top-six forward this summer and Tanguay comes to Tampa Bay with a wonderful resume.  In his nine NHL seasons, Tanguay has eclipsed 65 points five times and surpassed 70 points four times.  He’s a terrific passer with outstanding hands who has excelled playing on lines with such superstars as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Jarome Iginla.  While most of his points typically come on assists, he’s shown the knack for scoring big goals, too.  He netted two goals for Colorado in the Avs’ Game 7 victory during the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals.  Plus, after an injury-shortened 2008-09 season in which he managed only 41 points, he’s anxious to prove that last season was a fluke.  Now, as Lawton told Lightning fans on Saturday, “we have five really incredible players” at forward.   Of course, he’s referring to Tanguay, Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone.

St. Louis, Stamkos and Malone had good chemistry when head coach Rick Tocchet put them on the same line in the second half of last season.  It wouldn’t be a surprise, then, to see that unit begin this season as one of the top two lines.  If that happens, then Tanguay would play on Lecavalier’s left wing.  It would seem, with Tanguay’s passing ability and Lecavalier’s shot, that the two of them would make a formidable tandem.  

But no matter how Tocchet elects to build these lines, somebody is going to have to fill the final forward spot.  Who will it be?  Lawton said on Saturday that “we’re going to have to count on one of our young players to earn a spot or somebody on the team to step up”.  We very could see a rotation of several players utilized in that slot.  But they don’t all have to be “scorers”.  There’s a place on a top line for a hard-working corner man, one who is capable of winning battles and creating space for his talented line-mates.  Remember last year when Tocchet put Stamkos, Mark Recchi and Steve Downie on a line together?  That line played with some juice and pop, in part because Downie was so good in the corners and fearless about getting to the front of the net.  Downie would not necessarily be classified as a “skilled” forward, although he hasn’t looked out of place in limited stints on top lines during his time with Philadelphia and the Lightning.  But a guy like that can definitely contribute when given the chance to play with high-skill line-mates.

We may not know what the coaching staff decides to do about this last top-six spot until the regular season officially starts on October 3, but certainly the battle for this position will be one of the main storylines during training camp later this month.

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