Having a job has it benefits. There’s the money aspect, bill collectors enjoy it when I can actually pay them. It’s also nice to be able to buy food (even if it is ramen noodles and crackers). There is also the often overlooked perk of having somewhere to go for 8-10 hours a day. You may thinking having the entire day to do nothing is awesome while you’re unemployed, but let me tell you, that wears off after about 3 weeks.
One drawback is that it has created absolute havoc it has played on my sports knowledge. I still follow the games, and probably know more than the average fan about the teams I cheer for, but it’s not even close to the level I was at last summer.
Case in point - the NHL draft. Last summer I was all over it. I knew all the rumors, knew all the prospects, even down to the second and third round prospects the Bolts were looking at. This summer, not so much. As a matter of fact once the names dropped beyond Taylor Hall and Tyler Sequin I didn’t know anyone other than Nino Niederreiter. Heck, I didn’t even know much about him other than the fact that his name oozed awesomeness and he was a big scoring forward.
So that’s who I hoped the Lightning would draft. I had even made the effort of adding Niederreiter to my spell-check. Alas, it wasn’t to be. The Islanders, drafting just ahead of Tampa Bay, stole my etymological joy and picked up the big Swiss winger. The sadness quickly passed as I finished my beer (a Goose Island summer ale) and the Lightning were on the clock.
The talking heads said that surely Steve Yzerman’s first pick would be a defenseman. The Lightning need help on defense, Yzerman was born and bred in an organization that preached drafting defense, all signs pointed to defense. Start printing those Cam Fowler jerseys, Reebok.
So, Steve Y strides to the podium and receives a nice round of applause from the Los Angeles crowd. Without much pomp or circumstance he announces that the newest member of the team is right winger Brett Connolly. Well, ok then.
Apparently, young master Connolly is a bit of an enigma. Mock drafts had him as high as 5th and as low as the second round. His junior career so far is full of superlatives. CHL and WHL rookie of the year in 2008-09, first 16-year-old to tally 30 goals in the WHL since Patrick Marleau back in the 90’s, in 85 games for the Prince George Cougars (RAWR!) he had 40 goals and 79 points.
Scouts rave about his natural leadership skills, soft hands and ability to find the net. While he’s not a formidable physical presence, he won’t shy away from contact either. He seems like a perfect fit for a team that struggles to produce two solid lines and a new coach that stresses an up-tempo, pressure game. So why am I not more excited?
Oh yeah, that nagging injury. A hip injury that he suffered last year limited him to only 19 games in 2009-10. For a smooth, skating offensive player, heck for any hockey player, a hip injury can be a dicey proposition. Will it affect his skating? Will it linger on? What if he takes a solid check?
His agent swears that it’s a thing of the past and Connolly is healthy. If he is, then the Lightning might have picked up the steal of the draft. Within minutes of being drafted the talking heads used the “home run or strike out” analogy, twice. If not then he joins a long list of failed number one picks.
Do the Lightning need defense? Yes, but they need NHL ready defense. Veteran leadership, if you will. Fowler or Brandon Gormley will be solid NHL blue-liners, but not next season. Remember the Victor Hedman experience last year? Flashes of brilliance with many, many moments of rookie mistakes. With the goaltender situation still in flux, the Lightning can’t afford that to happen.
So far the Yzerman Era has progressed slowly, deliberately and safely. He hasn’t made any big trades (although it’s always fun to hear the Vinny to the Rangers rumors again) or said anything to indicate he’s going to make a big free agent splash. That’s not a bad thing. While it might keep the team news relegated to the back page, and doesn’t sell season tickets it provides stability to an organization that has desperately missed it.
There is a chance that Connolly, James Wright and Carter Ashton could all make the roster next season. Even Mitch Fadden could get a look this fall. It would mark the first time in a long time that the Bolts could field a team comprised with homegrown talent. Will it be enough to propel them into the playoffs in a suddenly competitive southeastern conference? Time will only tell.