Lightning mailbag: 'No issues' with Steven Stamkos recovery
It's the dog days of the NHL offseason, with the calendar finally ready to flip to August.
But there's still plenty to talk about, and debate, even with training camps more than a month away.
Enjoyed fielding some of your Lightning-related questions on Twitter (@TBTimes_JSmith), and here's my thoughts on some hot topics:
*How is Steven Stamkos doing?
Captain Steven Stamkos is having one heck of a summer, recently honeymooning with bride Sandra to celebrate last month's wedding in Toronto. He attended Victor Hedman's wedding a couple weeks ago in Sweden.
But Stamkos has also been working hard, continuing his recovery from mid-November knee surgery, which sidelined him for most of last season. GM Steve Yzerman has told me he expects Stamkos to be ready to go for camp and the start of next season. And the few times I've communicated with the Stamkos, he's been positive.
"He's doing great," agent Mark Guy said. "No issues."
The biggest question, however, is what Stamkos we will see on the ice this season? With a surgery of this magnitude, repairing a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, there tends to be some lingering impact. Wild wing Zach Parise, who had the same surgery on the same knee in November 2010, told the Times it took him "a year and a half to get back to feeling back to normal." Stamkos was playing arguably the best hockey of his life last season when he got hurt. There's no doubt plenty of eyes will be on the face of the franchise when training camp opens in mid-September.
*Thet Bolts sort of have a logjam on 'D' suddenly. Do you see them trading (Andrej) Sustr in the offseason?
It's possible the Lightning could move a defenseman - like Sustr - before the start of the regular season. Tampa Bay currently has eight NHL-ready defensemen, if you include Mikhail Sergachev, 19, who I believe has a strong chance to make the opening night roster. Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin were re-signed, and need to play. Veteran Dan Girardi, signed to a two-year, $6 million deal, wasn't given that money to be a 7th defenseman; he's been told he'll play qualilty minutes. Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Braydon Coburn are obvious regulars. While Yzerman said he can carry eight defensemen, that doesn't seem like the most ideal situation, one or two guys sitting each night. I think the Lightning will let training camp play out, see if Sergachev proves ready, see if everyone stays healthy. In the end, Sustr, who is on a one-year, $1.95 million deal, could be moved.
*Do you think the Lightning signing Jaromir Jagr is a possibility?
No. I've been told Tampa Bay isn't interested in pursuing the 45-year-old future Hall of Famer.
*What will Yanni Gourde's contributions be next season?
What a story Yanni Gourde is, having gone from the ECHL just a few years ago to a key cog for the Lightning last season. Gourde, 25, who had six goals in a 20-game callup, got rewarded with a two-year, $2 million, one-way deal in June.
"He had a fantastic season," Yzerman said. "He's worked hard, he's improved every year in every aspect."
Gourde is the type of dynamic and gritty forward that could contribute 15-plus goals in a season, versatile enough to play in all situations. The Lightning is loaded at center, with Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point, but Gourde can provide the type of secondary scoring the team has lacked in recent seasons.
*Who stood out for you at development camp?
Sergachev, first of all, was as advertised. His powerful skating, his skill, his rocket shot were all on display. Fellow prospects, like former first round pick Brett Howden, called him "NHL ready." Howden impressed as well, showing off much-improved skating ability, which he credits to work with coach Barb Underhill. Howden, along with Anthony Cirelli, are my top picks to make the jump to the NHL out of camp. Mathieu Joseph also stood out, as did Sammy Walker in 3-on-3. The stable of defensemen prospects, including first-round pick Cal Foote, were on display.
*Do you think Brayden Point will be centering the 3rd line or winging on the 1st or 2nd line?
Point was the team's top line center by the end of last season, thanks to injuries to Stamkos and Johnson. And he more than held his own. But unless either Stamkos or Johnson is used at wing, Point is more likely to be the third-line center, and a pretty darn good one too. He can play wing, but was at his best last season after moving to the middle full-time.
*Does Yzerman's love for 2nd round picks have any impact on if Sergachev makes the team?
No. Under the terms of the Jonathan Drouin deal to the Canadiens, if Sergachev doesn't play in 40 NHL games next season, including playoffs, the Lightning gets a second-round pick next year from Montreal (Tampa Bay would then have to give up a sixth-rounder). While second round picks are helpful, if Sergachev is ready, and can make the Lightning better, he won't be held back due to potential draft-pick compensation. Check out our profile on Sergachev, including comments from his junior coach saying he's ready for the NHL.
*If Sergachev doesn't make the team out of camp, can he still be called up later in the season?
If Sergachev doesn't make the team, he can be called up later in the season, but only if the emergency requirements for a CHL recall are met (related to NHL injuries to defensemen on roster); he'd have to be sent back after the emergency.
*If Slater Koekkoek fails to make team out of camp, is he eligible to return to Syr. or released/traded?
This is a huge year for Koekkoek, 23, the 2012 first-round pick. He was signed to a "show-me," one-year, $800,000 deal this summer, when he was a restricted free agent. Koekkoek opened last season with Tampa Bay but spent the second half of the year with AHL Syracuse, Yzerman saying he was impressed with how the young defensemen "evolved" and matured. Koekkoek will be given every chance to make the team, and I expect he will. If not, he's waiver-eligible, so would have to clear to get sent down to the AHL. Koekkoek would likely get picked up in that scenario, so if he's not part of the Lightning plans, would imagine he gets moved.