Who's No. 1?
Things didn't go as planned a year ago. GM Jay Feaster was pleased as punch to re-establish his relationship with Marc Denis, his goalie when Feaster managed the AHL Hershey Bears. Denis, 30, had played as well as could be expected with the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets, who were making room for their earlier No. 1 draft, Pascal Leclaire, and Denis became available. But Denis got off to a slow start, emotionally crumbled under the demands and criticism of coach John Tortorella and eventually lost his job to Swedish veteran Johan Holmqvist who'd had a couple of cups of coffee earlier in the decade with the New York Rangers.
Holmqvist got the Lightning back on track, winning 60 percent of his decisions. Holmqvist, 29, returns on a one-year contract and will be the opening day No. 1 goalie.
There will be a training camp battle between Denis and rookie Karri Ramo, 21, a talented young Finnish goaltender who played in parts of two games last season without a decision. Significantly, the Lightning dressed Ramo as Holmqvist's backup during the playoffs. Denis probably has the inside track to back up Holmqvist again this season for two reasons: Ramo, a youngster, will benefit from another year of AHL experience and Denis should be better prepared to deal with Tortorella's demands and press criticisms, if there are any. Expect Denis to leave training camp with the No. 2 job and if he falters, he'll switch places with Ramo in the AHL.
In the Wings
Karri Ramo -- This is the Lightning’s goalie of the future. He's big at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds and he has a good mental makeup for a goalie, able to put bad games behind him and play sharp in the next game. In a sense, he benefited from playing for the poor Lahti Penguin teams in Finland and being a low draft pick. Playing without unreasonable expectations, Ramo steadily progressed in his game, outplaying Tuuka Rask to be Finland's top junior goalie a few years back. He also replaced Pasi Nurminen one year and the team played much better in front of him. In his AHL rookie season last year, Ramo took the starter's job away from Sean Burke, then got promoted and took the backup job from Denis. The Lightning have to decide whether they want a 21-year-old goalie as an NHL backup or an AHL starter. Goalies need to play so it's likely Ramo is a year away.
Riku Helenius -- The Lightning's first pick, 15th overall, in the 2006 Entry Draft, Helenius lost a season to injury last year and will need more time to get his game back on track. He played for the Tampa Bay team at the Prospects Tournament in Traverse City and looked pretty good.