One of the areas Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster wanted to strengthen this summer was his team's defensive depth. Tampa Bay finishing 24th in team defense in 2006-07, allowing 3.16 goals-per-game.
|The Lightning have brought back Brad Lukowich, who previously played in Tampa for two seasons ('02-'04), to bolster a defensive unit that allowed over three goals per game last season. |
Feaster wanted to make sure he had capable horses in the organization's barn for 2007-08 in case any of his top defensemen struggle or go down with an injury.
Last season, the Lightning allowed the fifth-most goals in the NHL, while also finishing the year with 127 man-games lost to injury.
In the first few weeks of free agency, Feaster has done an impressive job at shoring up the Bolts' blue line, signing five defensemen to free-agent deals and acquiring one via a trade with the New York Rangers.
The biggest addition was bringing back Brad Lukowich for another tour of duty. Lukowich played for the Lightning during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, helping the team win back-to-back Southeast Division titles and a Stanley Cup Championship in 2004.
"Brad Lukowich is a warrior," Feaster said. "He plays the game with his heart on his sleeve and he does whatever it takes to win. He knows our system, he knows our core personnel, he knows how we do things in Tampa and what we expect from our players, and he is a winner. He is also a very good teammate and a popular player in the locker room. He has personality and spirit and old-school flair about him. We like everything about him and we are thrilled to welcome him back to our hockey team."
Lukowich, who set career highs with five goals, 19 points and a plus-29 plus/minus rating in 79 games with the Lightning in 2003-04, split the past two seasons between the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. In his career, the 30-year-old has skated in 523 games with the Lightning, Islanders, Devils and Dallas Stars, scoring 21 goals, 96 points, 333 penalty minutes and was a plus-48. He also has appeared in 65 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, recording a goal, six points and was plus-9. Originally acquired by Tampa Bay in a trade from Dallas at the 2002 Entry Draft, Lukowich also captured the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999.
Four defenders who should help the Lightning at the NHL and minor-league levels are Dan Jancevski, Mike Egener, Jay Leach and David Schneider. Feaster signed the foursome to two-way contracts, which should give the GM the flexibility he was looking for.
"Our scouting staff did an outstanding job identifying the depth players we wanted to target," Feaster said. "As a result, we are significantly better and deeper, organizationally, than we were prior to the start of free agency."
Jancevski played in all 80 games for the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs in 2006-07, helping them win the 2007 Calder Cup Championship. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder scored seven goals (five on the power-play) and 24 assists with a plus-22 rating during the regular season. He ranked first among defensemen and second on the team in plus/minus. Jancevski skated in 22 playoff games for the Bulldogs during their championship run, ranking second on the team in scoring with three goals and 14 points.
"Dan Jancevski is a gritty, strong, veteran physical defenseman and a real leader at the AHL level," Feaster said. "He has a very good shot from the point and he makes a strong first pass out of the zone. We like the physical presence he brings to the game and we especially value his leadership abilities. We attempted to sign him last summer and he went on to win the Calder Cup in Hamilton. He joins a host of players who will have a chance to compete for a spot on our roster in training camp, and he, too, adds to our organizational depth on the blue line. This signing, combined with other blue-line signings and acquisitions this week, helps transform our organizational depth on the back-end dramatically and gives our prospects some outstanding mentors at the AHL level."
Egener (6-foot-4, 216 pounds) played in 75 games with Springfield of the AHL last season, recording three assists while leading the team in penalty minutes with 152. Egener is a veteran of 158 AHL games with five goals, 11 points and 477 penalty minutes.
|Defenseman Jay Leach led the AHL's Providence Bruins with 120 penalty minutes in 73 games last season. |
Leach played 73 games with the Providence Bruins last season, posting two goals and seven assists, while leading the team with 128 penalty minutes. The 27-year-old finished the season with a plus-1 rating and scored one power-play goal during the regular season. In 13 Calder Cup Playoff games, Leach netted four points and 13 penalty minutes.
Schneider spent the 2006-07 season with HPK Hameenlinna in the Finnish Elite League. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound native of Melrose Park, Illinois played in 53 games with HPK, registering 25 points off eight goals and 17 assists with and a plus-12 rating. The 27-year-old also played in nine postseason games, scoring five points off three goals and two assists.
On the trade front, Feaster acquired defenseman Bryce Lampman from the New York Rangers in exchange for left wing Mitch Fritz.
Lampman appeared in 60 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack last season, recording six goals, 19 assists and 62 penalty minutes. He has appeared in 258 career games with Hartford, recording 19 goals, 76 points and 234 penalty minutes. The 24-year old has also appeared in 10 NHL games with the Rangers.
"In Bryce Lampman we are obtaining a mobile, very good skating, puck-moving defenseman with good vision who sees the ice well, makes a very good first pass and who possesses excellent hockey sense. He is also a player who can be used in all special teams situations," Feaster explained. "For the past three or four seasons now our pro scouts have felt that he was on the verge of playing regularly in the NHL. Based on our discussions with the Rangers it was pretty much an identical situation for them with Lampman as to what we had with Mitch. Bryce had been considering playing in Europe this upcoming season and he, too, wanted a chance to play. He was tendered a two-way QO, just like Fritz, and he has signed that contract. He will come to training camp in September and have a chance to battle it out with probably five or six other players for the sixth and seventh spots on our blue line. Based on everything we have seen from him in the past, he is knocking on the door of being an NHL regular. We are thrilled to have him in our organization and we wish Mitch Fritz nothing but success."