THN.com Blog: Despite changes, Lightning's defense will be its undoing

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact he was an all-out offensive player who didn’t know what his defensemen and goalie looked like. Perhaps it has something to do with his style of doing business, which is to act first and worry about the details later.

Whatever it is, it’s clear Len Barrie is of the opinion the best defense is a good offense.

How else can you explain how he – notice how absent GM Jay Feaster is from the proceedings lately – has remade the Tampa Bay Lightning since he took over as one of the team’s owners? Clearly he believes the Lightning forwards will have the puck on their sticks so much they don’t have to worry about details such as having NHL-caliber defensemen and goaltenders to back them up.

Or maybe he really believes his team has a defense corps capable of competing on a nightly basis in the NHL. He certainly led everyone to believe that recently when he said, “You can hear it from me first, our defense is better than people think. That’s why we’re loading up on forwards because I really, really like our young defense.”

If so, he’s one of the only people in hockey who feels that way.

Perhaps Barrie knows something we don’t. But we’re betting a top eight defense corps of Paul Ranger, Filip Kuba, Matt Carle, Shane O’Brien, Alexandre Picard, Mike Lundin, Janne Niskala and Matt (and we don’t mean) Smaby will not hold up to the rigors of NHL competition and will be the Lightning’s undoing next season.

And if it’s true the Lightning is shopping No. 1 goalie Mike Smith and plans to go with a tandem of Olaf Kolzig and Karri Ramo next season, the Lightning had better be prepared to lose lots of 6-5 hockey games.

(Note to Barrie: Kolzig had the worst save percentage in the league this season, in case you hadn’t noticed. And Ramo, well, let’s say he’s not terribly well-acquainted with a .900 save percentage himself.)

The irony of the situation is the Lightning has done a commendable job of retooling its forwards and has two solid offensive lines and enough depth to adequately fill out the top four lines.

Vinny Lecavalier between Vinny Prospal and Martin St-Louis is as good as any first line in the league and having his old buddy Prospal feeding him passes will help Lecavalier score more.

Steven Stamkos between Ryan Malone and Radim Vrbata shows some promise and a third line of Jeff Halpern between Jussi Jokinen and Mark Recchi will be a good support unit. Adam Hall between Gary Roberts and Evgeni Artyukhin represents a credible fourth line.

But with the possible exception of Halpern, there isn’t much of a defensive presence there.

Which is just as well because with that defense and goaltending, the Lightning is going to need all the goals it can get.

Ken Campbell, a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com, is at the NHL Draft in Ottawa covering the event. His blog normally appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

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