There were several missteps for the Tampa Bay Lightning since 2004 in trying to replace Nikolai Khabibulin as their Stanley Cup goaltender.
Ever since general manager Jay Feaster made the difficult decision following that NHL championship that with the introduction of the salary cap he had to keep the Big Three of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards over Khabibulin, the Lightning have never been close to winning another Cup.
Since then, the goalie parade included John Grahame, Sean Burke, Marc Denis, Johan Holmqvist and Karri Ramo with no one proving to be up to the job. Denis was the most expensive mistake and now he is in the minor leagues collecting a big salary.
Feaster and Lightning head coach John Tortorella hope they have finally hit on the right choice, even if it did cost them star centre Brad Richards. On the NHL's trade-deadline day on Tuesday, Feaster made one of the biggest trades of the day when he sent Richards to the Dallas Stars for goaltender Mike Smith and forwards Jeff Halpern and Jussi Jokinen.
Halpern and Jokinen made bigger immediate impacts with the Lightning, as Jokinen played on the top line with Lecavalier and St. Louis, while Halpern had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night.,
But it is Smith, a 25-year-old native of Kingston, Ont., who is the key to the trade. He was pushing Marty Turco for the No. 1 job with the Stars and Halpern thinks it will not be long before he pushes his way into the ranks of the top goaltenders in the league.
"Mike Smith has everything there," Halpern said after the Lightning's game-day skate on Friday in preparation for a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. "He's one of the best passers in the league and you always have confidence he'll make the save.
"I think he'll be in the top five [goaltenders] maybe better, in a few years."
The mercurial Tortorella won't go that far but he did admit the reports are promising.
"I have no idea," Tortorella said at first when asked if Smith was the answer. "I don't know who Mike Smith is. Maybe some time next year you can talk to me.
"I talked to so many people about Smith and they tout him as a guy who can do the job. But he's never done it before so there's always risk, we understand that."
Smith is expected to get his second consecutive start when the Lightning play the Leafs on Friday night in their final meeting of the regular season. The Leafs hold a 2-1 record in their three previous games.
The Lightning will be missing centre Chris Gratton, who had season-ending surgery on his hip this week, forward Ryan Craig (knee) and defenceman Brad Lukowich (sports hernia). Defenceman Filip Kuba is day-to-day with a knee injury.
The Leafs will use the same lineup that earned a 4-3 shootout win Wednesday night against the Florida Panthers.Report Typo/Error