The draft board pages include every player who was left unprotected in the 1999 Expansion Draft. The overwhelming majority of players who do not carry over are either old, unproductive, injured, primarily used for fighting, marginal players, minor league veterans, or unsigned European prospects. The majority of pending UFAs (Group III, Group V, and Group VI) will not carry over. Exceptions to these rules are provided if the incumbent team left almost nothing of value available to choose from, in which case everyone gets at least a closer look.
As we are capped by league restrictions to selecting no more than six pending free agents, we must be judicious with our choices.
The Lightning finished up with under 50 points for the second consecutive season, dead last in the league in points, goals, and goals against.
Goalies: Daren Puppa, Corey Schwab(Gr.II – RFA), Derek Wilkinson(Gr.II – RFA)
Defensemen: Jassen Cullimore, Kjell Samuelsson(Gr.III – UFA), Michal Sykora(Gr.II – RFA), David Wilkie(Gr.II – RFA)
Forwards: Jesse Belanger(Gr.II – RFA), Jason Bonsignore(Gr.II – RFA), Brian Bradley(Gr.III – UFA), Colin Cloutier(Gr.II – RFA), Alexandre Daigle, Stephane Richer, Paul Ysebaert(Gr.III – UFA)
Despite how bad the Lightning were this year, we’re looking at five of their fourteen unprotected players. Corey Schwab is the only one of three goalies, Jassen Cullimore and David Wilkie are half of the unprotected defensemen, and Alexandre Daigle and Stephane Richer are the only of seven forwards who have made the first cut.
G Corey Schwab – 28-year-old goalie, 10th-round pick of New Jersey (1990)
The case for taking Schwab – New Jersey drafted three goalies in the 1990 draft: Martin Brodeur, Mike Dunham, and Corey Schwab. That’s a pretty solid success rate there.
Schwab had a terrific 1994-95 season in the AHL with Albany, splitting goaltending duties with Dunham. The duo backstopped the River Rats to the Calder Cup, and shared the playoff MVP award. Schwab was traded to Tampa Bay in 1996 and has been there the past three seasons. Unfortunately, it’s tough to get a read on what he can do since the Lightning have been pretty bad all three years: 74 points in 1996-97, 44 in 1997-98, 47 in 1998-99. It’s tough to write off someone who had so much promise and returned so much in a trade when he’s stuck behind teams like these.
The case against taking Schwab – Sure, the teams haven’t been great, and neither has Schwab. When Daren Puppa was injured and the starting job was wide open, Schwab was outplayed by Rick Tabaracci. The next year, with Puppa in and out of the lineup, Schwab was outplayed by Mark Fitzpatrick. And this past year, Schwab was awful and was arguably outplayed by Bill Ranford. Tabaracci, Fitzpatrick, and Ranford have all had nice careers, but they’re all past their primes and were more or less afterthoughts in the open market. That Schwab has been given every opportunity to become the full-time starter and has been outplayed by the latest old goalie on the one-year merry-go-round points to there being a bigger problem. Tampa paid a lot to get him in the first place; we don’t need to make that same mistake.
He’s also a pending Group II free agent, and burning our one possible free agent spot on Schwab seems like a very bad idea.
D Jassen Cullimore – 26-year-old defenseman, 2nd-round pick of Vancouver (1991)
The case for taking Cullimore – Mammoth (6’5”, 230 pounds) defenseman who has some offensive skill, some defensive skill, and some serious physical play at times. Has a big shot from the point, and started off this past season with three goals in the first month to exceed his career high. He’s shown a tendency during his career to improve in big jumps rather than in a more linear fashion, and since it looks like he’s finally getting the hang of the NHL, he could be due for a big breakthrough.
The case against taking Cullimore – He scored three goals in his first six games last year, then two goals in the remaining seventy-two. That’s an odd definition of “improvement”. In the last four seasons, he’s torn his rotator cuff, been unable to stick in the lineup on a bad Canucks back end, and refused a conditioning stint in the AHL after being a healthy scratch in 24 out of 26 games on said Canucks team. This cost him a spot in the lineup to Mark Wotton, who I’m sure is a nice fellow but not exactly an NHL All-Star.
Cullimore will play physical at times, which is way less than we’d like to see out of someone possessing that size and ability to exert that much raw force. He’ll shoot at times, he’ll pass at times, he’ll shut down at times. But by now, one would have to question if he’s ever really going to put it together, and whether that’s a gamble that we should take.
D David Wilkie – 25-year-old defenseman, 1st-round pick of Montreal (1992)
The case for taking Wilkie – Big, strong defenseman with a cannon of a shot and good offensive instincts. He started out as a forward, and switched to defense when he reached the WHL. He had 10 goals and 53 points in his first pro year as a 20-year-old, and has put up good numbers in the AHL. In the NHL, he’s mostly been relegated to the third pairing and power play and hasn’t gotten much ice time. He’s still just 25, has the desire and work ethic to continue improving, and could be a nice addition.
The case against taking Wilkie – Of course he’s been relegated to the third pairing and power play; his defensive game is not good. He still has that forward’s mentality of wanting to carry the puck and advance it, even when pinned down and in place of making the safe play out of the zone. His skating still looks like that of a forward trying to play defense, which is a big part of his issues; that’s been an issue going back almost a decade and hasn’t been fixed. He’s played 75 games with the Lightning and been -40 despite limited usage in his own zone. His offensive production at even strength is minimal, and using him to kill penalties isn’t a good idea. So we’re looking at a power play specialist who doesn’t produce enough offense in any facet to offset whatever his defense is supposed to be. And as a pending Group II free agent, he’d count against our limit.
F Alexandre Daigle – 24-year-old forward, 1st-round pick of Ottawa (1993)
The case for taking Daigle – Universally regarded as possessing franchise skill when he was drafted first overall in 1993, Daigle has had an up-and-down career to this point. He actually wasn’t a bad player in Ottawa, he just wasn’t the perennial All-Star that was expected of him. He became the poster boy for the atrocious early Senators teams, then was sent packing just as the team was beginning to emerge. Two seasons ago, he had 26 points in 37 games with Philadelphia, then was rewarded last year with reduced ice time and an unfamiliar role before being sent to Tampa.
Yes, there have been questions about his effort level and consistency. It’s entirely possible that being shuffled among multiple lines and not having a defined role while playing on a lot of bad teams have taken their toll on his production. There won’t be any question about his role here: on skill alone, he can play in the top six immediately, and we’ll be able to pick up enough veteran leadership of various types to keep him going if his confidence starts to wane. We can get a hell of a player in an expansion draft, which is very uncommon.
The case against taking Daigle – The key operative word with any expansion team is “instability”; that’s simply the nature of it. If we have somebody who needs to be in a situation that he’s completely comfortable in to be able to produce, why would an expansion team be a good landing spot? He’s been shuffled through roles in his previous stops because he can’t seem to get it through his head to play within his limitations and to get his teammates involved. This isn’t junior hockey, and if we need to hold someone’s hand just to get him to play, we might as well just pass on him.
It’s not like he simply crumbled under the pressure; he played his best hockey in Ottawa, and didn’t do much while looked at more as a secondary player in Tampa and Philly. Since our early expectations are fairly subdued, what can we really expect?
F Stephane Richer – 33-year-old forward, 2nd-round pick of Montreal (1984)
The case for taking Richer – Impeccable scoring credentials: almost 400 goals, almost 800 points, two 50-goal seasons, three more 30-goal seasons, and a couple of stellar playoff performances. Still possesses that speed and devastating wrist shot, and can create offense like few others in this draft class can.
The case against taking Richer – Yes, when he’s fully engaged and putting in the effort, there are few forwards in the league more difficult to contain than Richer. When’s the last time that he was actually fully engaged? He missed 18 games last year, 42 the year before, and 19 the year before. And there have been whispers his entire career about his maddening tendency to disengage and be completely invisible for weeks at a time. He had 12 goals last year in 64 games despite getting a lot of ice time, which raises an awful lot of questions about whether he actually still has the skill or whether he just went through the motions for an entire season. Either way, this isn’t someone that we need to take a long look at; his inability to stay in the lineup the last three seasons and his lack of production says more than anything else.