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Feaster: Best Lightning team since 2003

by John McGourty / NHL.com

 

NHL.com's 2007-08 Lightning Season Preview Package:
Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards | Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster





From now until the day he dies, and beyond, Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster always will be known as "Jay Feaster, Stanley Cup-winning general manager.

In this business, there's no higher accolade.

Therefore, when Jay Feaster says the 2007-08 Lightning are the best he's assembled since the 2004 Stanley Cup winners, you must sit up and listen. Feaster explains to NHL.com why his team is a strong threat to not only win the Southeast Division, but to go all the way. Once again, the Lightning will be led by “The Big Three” of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards. It's the supporting players that Feaster thinks gives the Lightning a chance to take the game to the next level.

NHL.com -- Why will the Tampa Bay Lightning be back in the Stanley Cup Final this year?

Feaster
General Manager Jay Feaster says the 2007-08 Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team he's assembled since the 2004 Stanley Cup winners.

Feaster --I think we're deeper now than we've been at any point since the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. We signed some free agents who can battle and push guys for spots. If they don't make our team, they'll be in our system in the American League. We like our sixth-defenseman spot young prospects, but we have pros like Doug Janik coming back. Dan Jancevski signed as a free agent. We signed Jay Leach. We traded to acquire Bryce Lampman from the Rangers.

I like our depth a whole lot more. We also like our team toughness. We sort of lost our personality over the last couple of years and we started to bring it back with Andre Roy and Nick Tarnasky, a tough kid to play against. Chris Gratton is very tough to play against and doesn't back down from anyone. Shane O'Brien was one of Anaheim's top three guys in fighting majors. We like the fact that we're tougher than we were. Even Jason Ward, not a fighter, is a tough guy to play against and a grinder. I like the fact we have a little more grit.

NHL.com -- Pittsburgh has an impressive corps of young forwards, but were you surprised to find Michel Ouellet available? He was one of their top scorers.

Feaster -- I was, but I certainly understand. We go through it ourselves. Candidly, we went through the same thing with Ryan Craig. We were concerned about what would happen in arbitration. They just made an economic decision and we feel fortunate that they were forced to make an economic decision because we got a heck of a player at a very good price. We think he'll flourish in our system.

I anticipate that our top three lines, going into training camp, will be Lecavalier centering Vinnie Prospal on the left side and Martin St. Louis on the right side. Obviously, things can change, but I think it will start that way because (coach) John Tortorella liked the way they played last year. The second line will be Jan Hlavac on the left side with Brad Richards centering and Michel Ouellet on the right wing. That line could change, depending on how the chemistry with Hlavac works, because Andreas Karlsson could get a look there on the left side. If Hlavac plays second-line left wing, then Karlsson will play on the third line with Chris Gratton at center and probably Jason Ward on the right side. The fourth line will be Ryan Craig on center with Andre Roy on the left side and Nick Tarnasky on the right.

The top defensive pair will be Danny Boyle and Paul Ranger and we feel very good about them. Filip Kuba had a career year offensively last year as a free agent and will probably pair with Shane O'Brien, who we picked up in the trade with Anaheim. Brad Lukowich is coming back as the No. 5 defenseman. We re-acquired him as a free agent. We'll go into training camp looking for the sixth defenseman.

That will be one of the big battles in training camp to see who will jump up and take that sixth defenseman's spot.

NHL.com -- Were you a little surprised at what happened with your goaltending last year?

Feaster -- Yeah, we were a little surprised. A pleasant surprise in that Johan Holmqvist had a great year. He won 27 games. He's back on a one-year deal. We're excited about that because he acknowledges that he has things to accomplish. Going into camp, he's the No. 1 guy.

We'll take three goalies into camp. Marc Denis has to have a bounce-back year and we're confident that he will. He learned a lot of things last year. He dealt with a lot of things that he didn't have to deal with before in terms of the way John holds his goaltenders accountable, just like every other player on the team. I think Marc will bounce back. Then we have the youngster, Karri Ramo, who Bill Barber and all our scouts and minor-league guys have said is ready to play as a backup right now in the NHL. So, those three guys will come into camp fighting for two spots.

"I think we're deeper now than we've been at any point since the 2003 Stanley Cup Final."
-- Jay Feaster

NHL.com -- Would Ramo benefit from another year in the AHL?

Feaster -- I don't think there would be anything wrong with that. In fact, that would be a good thing for him. But we're not going to hold him back. If he winds up one of the two best goaltenders, we'll move him along.

NHL.com -- Was Denis' main problem a cultural change from one organization to another?

Feaster -- I think so. Honestly, because of the way we work, the goalies are just as accountable as the position players. If you don't have a good game, “Torts” is going to take you out and he's not going to come with you if the other guy is playing well. That's one of the things that happened. Marc struggled a little bit and we put “Homer” in there and he took the ball and ran with it. I do think it was a bit of a cultural change for Marc.

NHL.com -- The power play is one of Tampa Bay's strengths. Do you anticipate much change in the units from a year ago?

Feaster -- I would anticipate that it will be our big guns. I think we'll be using four forwards on the first unit with defenseman Danny Boyle. Lecavalier and Richards will be out there with St. Louis. Chances are Vinnie Prospal will play on the first unit. I think Chris Gratton will get some time on the second unit along with Jason Ward. Andreas Karlsson and Michel Ouellet will see time on the second unit. Now, there's where you might see some change if Ouellet plays on the first unit and then Prospal goes to the second unit. Filip Kuba will play on that power-play point. Paul Ranger and Shane O'Brien will get opportunities on the point, as well.

NHL.com -- Several of your top players see action on both the power play and the penalty kill. What's the thinking on the penalty kill?

Feaster -- Coach is going to use a lot of guys there. Certainly, Gratton will be on the penalty kill. Lecavalier and Richards will kill penalties. Defensively, I'm sure he'll use Kuba, O'Brien and Lukowich in killing penalties. Ryan Craig will also be used that way and sometimes on the power play. He's a guy you can use both ways.

NHL.com -- Which prospects have the best chance to make this roster this year?

Feaster --That's a good question. The biggest battle and the biggest opportunity is going to be that sixth-defenseman spot. Andy Rogers is a kid coming in with an opportunity to make the team. Vladimir Mihalik is another guy with a chance. Matt Smaby was up with us at the end of last season. He didn't play for us, but was with the club from the trade deadline on. Those are three guys we'd love to see break through.

NHL.com's 2007-08 Lightning Season Preview Package:
Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards | Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster

 

 

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