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Lightning hang on to top pick

by Brian Compton / NHL.com

The Tampa Bay Lightning faithful were ecstatic to see NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly hold up their team's logo when the first pick was announced.
Inconsistency plagued the Tampa Bay Lightning all season long.

They struggled to find the right line combinations, they struggled on special teams, they struggled to find a goaltender who could stop the puck on a nightly basis.

In the end, they won just 31 games in 2007-08 and finished with 71 points.
   
The healing process officially began Monday night.
   
With a 25-percent chance to retain the top pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, the Lightning won the Draft Lottery – and the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes.
   
“This has been a season of just incredible bad luck for us on so many fronts throughout the year,” Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster said. “I’m not sure what that cartoon is, but it’s the guy who walks around with the thunder cloud over his head and it’s raining only on him.

"That’s how we felt throughout this season as an organization. That’s really the same kind of attitude and mentality that we approached tonight with. It was nice to see that for the first time in an entire season that the storm cloud parted and there’s actually a little bit of sunshine here in the Sunshine State.”
   
Since the Lightning came out victorious on Monday night, the selection process remains the same and will go by how each team fared during the 2007-08 campaign. The Los Angeles Kings have the No. 2 pick in the Draft, followed by the Atlanta Thrashers, St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders. Those five teams each had a crack at the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, which will be held from June 20-21 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.
   
The Kings also had 71 points, but Tampa Bay was given the best chance of winning the Lottery since it won fewer games (31). Los Angeles had the second-best chance of winning the Lottery at 18.8 percent, followed by Atlanta (14.2), St. Louis (10.7) and the Islanders (8.1).

Fourteen balls, numbered 1 to 14, were placed in a lottery machine. The machine expelled four balls, forming a series of numbers. The four-digit series resulting from the expulsion of the balls was matched against a probability chart that divided the possible combinations among the 14 participating clubs. The final 16 selections of the first round will be determined at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
   
The Draft drawing is a weighted system to give the teams that finished with the fewest points during the regular season the greatest chance of having their combination selected.

This marks the third time in franchise history that Tampa Bay has the No. 1 pick. The Lightning used the top pick to select Roman Hamrlik in 1992 and Vincent Lecavalier in 1998.

The question is, will the Lightning use their top pick to select Stamkos? Will they trade it? Or with a premier center (Lecavalier) already in place, will Tampa Bay use the pick to select a promising defenseman such as Drew Doughty or Zach Bogosian?

“Nothing’s set in stone yet,” Stamkos said on TSN just moments after the Lottery winner was announced. “But if I’m the guy that they want, that would be a great honor for me.”

It sounds as if Feaster and his front-office staff have their minds made up. Barring an unbelievable offer, it appears Stamkos will be wearing a Lightning sweater in Ottawa on June 20.

“It’s about the long-term and not just being good next year,” Feaster said. “It’s being a team that can contend for a long time. Anytime you have the opportunity to have a franchise player, you want to take advantage of that. (But) you never say never. If someone comes up with the truckload of players and picks and prospects, you’d have to consider it. But we’re certainly not going into it thinking, ‘Let’s trade the pick.’”

Stamkos, who turned 18 on Feb. 7, scored 58 goals and added 47 assists in just 61 games for the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League this season. At 6-feet tall and 170 pounds, Stamkos could very well make the jump to the NHL six months from now.

The ping pong balls bounced the right way for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night as they won the rights to the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

“We view him as a player that he is an impact player – a player who’s ready to play in the National Hockey League,” Feaster said of Stamkos. “The move that we made at the trade deadline, trading away Brad Richards (to Dallas) and Vinny Prospal (to Philadelphia), we feel that we are a better hockey club. But we recognize that we have weakened ourselves offensively. As we approach the offseason, we felt we had to bring in a minimum of two top-six forwards, maybe even three. To have the opportunity to have the No. 1 pick in this Draft and have that player who is NHL ready, that’s a real nice position for our franchise to be in.”

But that doesn’t mean Feaster will take his phone off the hook. The Lightning G.M. expects several offers from teams around the League regarding his No. 1 pick.

Heck, he’s already taken at least one call.

“I’ve already had a General Manager who has indicated that they don’t have a first (round pick) and they’re going to be looking to wheel and deal,” Feaster admitted. “That’s why you don’t ever say that you would never move the pick. It’s something that certainly you have to listen to the offers that are made to you. But it would have to be something that would almost have to be a no-brainer. If we could get a player that we think is a franchise player and is going to play for us for a long time, it would take an awful lot to convince us to move that pick.”
   
Especially when you consider the Lightning won’t pick again in Ottawa until Round 3. Feaster dealt the team’s second-round selection in 2008 to the Florida Panthers in a deal that brought Chris Gratton to Tampa Bay on June 13, 2007. Given the hype the 2008 Draft has received, Feaster emphasized how important it is to land the top overall selection.
   
“We do think it’s a deep draft,” Feaster said. “I like the possibilities that you have for the first 10 picks in this draft. The thing that I lament the most is we don’t have our own second-round pick. I wish we did. I think there are going to be some real-good value picks in this draft. Our guys feel very good about it. We’re excited about the draft on an overall basis – not just with the No. 1 pick.”
   
After a long season that saw Tampa Bay finish 31-42-9, excitement is welcomed with open arms – the same way Stamkos could be by Feaster & Co. just over two months from now.
   
“It does hurt to be where we are,” Feaster said. “We conducted our exit meetings (on Monday). It’s not where we want to be. I felt that while we are 30th, we’re not that bad. We’re not that far away. I was encouraged, because I didn’t articulate that during the meetings. This is a time for me to listen to the players. We talked about having that first pick overall and what that would mean. To be able to pick up a franchise player with the first pick overall, we think we can get going in the right direction that much faster.”

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.

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