Former Stanley Cup champs, the Tampa Bay Lightning have seen more of their fair share of scrutiny... and rightly so, in my opinion... about how good of a team they really are. They struggled all year with their goaltending situation after losing Nikolai Khabibulin to Unrestricted Free Agency last summer. Let's face it... he was a greedy European goalie, who didn't really deserve all that money for one good run. The Lightning would have been laughing at the Blackhawks if they didn't have problems of their own. John Grahame and Sean Burke, although making it to the playoffs, didn't command the respect the usual Stanley Cup champs would have done the season after.
Ring in Free Agency 2006... the market opens in a month for all Unrestricted and Restricted Free Agents and as a poolie, one loves this part of the season. The speculation, the lead-up, the signings and then the analysis that leads up right through training camp and into the regular season where all the formulas are put to the test.
The Lightning have decided to make a splash before all the new FA's hit the market by signing an NHL UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent) who played in Europe last season and then led the Swedish Men's Hockey Team to a World Championship gold medal last month... Johan Holmqvist.
Now all you NHL fans may remember Holmqvist from way back in the 2001/02 season, when he last played for the Rangers. Actually, you probably don't... he only played 9 minutes in one game for the Rangers, but he was there. He has since played in his native Sweden, getting quite a few minutes in the Elite League and in various International competitions.
As reported on TSN.ca today, Holmqvist signed his deal after he was scouted by Lightning goalie coaches and was given a very heavy recommendation to be signed by Jay Feaster, Lightning GM.
In my five seasons of doing hockey pools, I have found that the best indication of bandwagon jumping is by the players some teams pick to represent them. Tampa Bay attracted a lot of attention and rightly so, since they did win the Cup, at the beginning of the year. People thought they were a good team, a winning team, but no one really paid attention to the off-season... that one of the pieces of the puzzle was lost due to salary cap reasons or anything like that. The Lightning now have themselves the possibility of a good goaltender again, one that a lot of players haven't seen and if they haven't lost many people from their bandwagon, as they probably have, Holmqvist may become a popular commodity come the September pool drafts and a favourite amongst the Lightning faithful (snicker, snicker).
Myself, personally, will actually rate him quite highly. He may work out in the same way as a Miikka Kiprusoff for the Flames or his compatriot Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers... a good goalie from out of nowhere. I did have him pegged kind of high in the 2001/02 draft, as I went back and looked at all my historical draft documents, he was 42nd on my goalie list, in what was a large pool draft.
Tampa Bay Lightning