Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Another Annual Tradition - Let's Trade Ryan Malone!

The thermometer is hovering around 95 and for the first time in my life I live in a building that doesn’t have central air. So in order to cool off I’m typing this with a Lasko box fan on high two feet from my face; and I’m thinking about hockey.

Unfortunately, in the middle of July there isn’t much going on in the hockey world. The major free agents have signed and the dust seems to have settled on big trades. Still it’s better than writing about the O’s. Other than a glaring hole the size of Steven Stamkos on the roster, the Lightning are pretty much going about business as usual. Most of their recent signing have been depth moves aimed at filling out Norfolk’s roster.

Teddy Purcell’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, and barring a last minute compromise it appears the two sides will get a chance to state their respective cases. These types of dealings can get contentious, after all, the Lightning front office will be making their case against paying him what he thinks he’s worth, and really the only way to do that is to bring up the negative aspects of his game. The good news is, no matter what the outcome he will be skating on with the Bolts next season.

Reports of changes underway at the Ice Palace are encouraging, it seems Lightning fans will enjoy most of the upgrades once they get a chance to attend a game in October. While I doubt I’ll be there for the home opener, I do hope to see at least one or two games at some point next season. Once I do, I’ll be sure to pass along my opinions. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Vinik is able to recoup any of his expenditures from the city of Tampa once the upgrades are done.

Even in the Twitter-verse things are relatively quiet, especially when compared to hysteria that accompanied the free agent frenzy at the beginning of the month. The only thing that popped up in the last couple of days was a rumor that had Tampa talking with Toronto. Normally, I don’t engage with speculation from unconfirmed sources, but with the overall landscape being quite bare let’s indulge a little shall we?

Any time trade speculation comes up the first thought is that Tampa Bay is giving up and dealing the rights to Stamkos to another club. In this case that’s highly unlikely. The Leafs aren’t exactly dealing with tons of cap space so in order to afford Stamkos they would have to move a rather large contract back to Tampa Bay.

In scouring their current roster, I must say there really isn’t all that much to choose from. Their biggest cap hits are: Phil Kessel ($5.4million for three more seasons), newly signed Tim Connolly (2 years at $4.75), Dion Phaneuf ($6.5 for three more years), and Mike Komisarek ($4.5 for three more years).

No one in that group would be worth taking on in exchange for Stamkos even with a top prospect and a high round pick or two. Sure, Phaneuf would provide some big hits and the occasional goal, but that’s a steep price tag for a player who is basically Mattias Ohlund, without all of the oldness.

Kessel would provide some scoring, but he has garnered a reputation as a sullen player who might not be the best clubhouse fit. The Lightning appear to be a tight-knit group and instilling a negative influence might not be great for team chemistry.

So in all likelihood the players being discussed don’t involve number 91. More likely, this is the emerging of the yearly Ryan Malone to Toronto trade rumors (now entering its third season!) Malone’s $4.5 million cap hit and declining salary might be more enticing to the Leafs than the $7.5-$8 million it will take to sign Stamkos. Malone, when healthy can provide 20-25 goals and be the big presence in front of the net that teams seem to desire these days.

The “when healthy” qualifier is important. He hasn’t played more than 70 games in a season since signing with the Lightning in 2008-09 and for some stretches, even when he’s been in the lineup it’s apparent that he hasn’t been 100%.
His role with Tampa Bay is hard to define as well. When most of the press talks about the type of forward that coach Guy Boucher prefers they use adjectives such as quick, fast-skating, hard working, defensive minded, two-way, back-checking, etc.

Those aren’t exactly Malone’s strong points. While he isn’t a horrible skater, he also isn’t going to win many fastest skater competitions either. His place is in front of the net where he can use his strength and natural pestering abilities to redirect pucks and stuff home rebounds. That takes skill and determination that I’m not sure many hockey fans appreciate. However, it might not be as important for the Lightning as it is for other teams.

What could the Lightning expect back for Mr. Malone? Well a draft pick and a mid –range prospect or third line NHL’er. The Lightning won’t be at the cap when they sign Stamkos and Purcell, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking to save some money. Turning that $4.5 million hit into a $1.5 million hit would give them some payroll flexibility should they need it down the road.

Who would replace him on the roster? With the loss of Sean Bergenheim and Simon Gagne it’s accepted that Malone would return to his role as one of the top six forwards on the team – a position he had and lost at the end of last season.

My immediate thought would be that he would be replaced from within. Recently Damian Cristodero had an article in the St. Pete Times that discussed Carter Ashton and his chances for making the club out of camp. The argument was that his best chance would be to change his game and become more of a third line center. If a Malone deal happens, wouldn’t it make more sense to have Ashton and his offensive skills on the
top lines instead of mucking it up for 8 minutes a game with the grinders?

Granted, it would be a big adjustment for Ashton to jump from juniors all the way to the NHL, but isn’t that why you trade up to draft elite talent? At some point these prospects are going to have to have their mettle tested against the big boys. Why not next season?

In all probability this is just speculation and Malone will be skating alongside Vincent next season on the second line. Still, that’s what these summer months are for. Well that and ice cream.

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