This installment of my 2013 player grades series is the one we have been looking forward to the least.
We don't enjoy harsh criticism and will often look for the positive aspects of any situation or person, wherever possible. But there is no point in sugarcoating what was a tremendously disappointing season for the once-promising Brian Lee.
The former 9th overall pick of the 2005 draft (Ottawa Senators) was acquired by GM Steve Yzerman in February of 2012 in a trade for Matt Gilroy, a swap of highly-touted right handed defense prospects who never seemed to pan out in the NHL.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, their bet on Lee didn't pay dividends in 2013.
He managed just 22 games up with the big club before being waived and ended the year buried in the minors with the AHL Syracuse Crunch, partly due to his poor play and partly to help bury some of his 1.15 million cap hit. He followed that assignment with an injury that even held him out of meaningful games in Syracuse, further stalling his already arrested development.
In those 22 NHL contests, Lee had 0 points and a team-worst -13 rating. By comparison, defenseman Brendan Mikkelson (who was not retained by the Lightning this offseason) at least managed one point in just four NHL games.
That Mikkelson — who arguably played better than Lee in limited NHL ice-time — was not re-signed speaks volumes about how the organization feels about Lee and his place in this organization. If not for the year remaining on the deal he signed after coming over in the trade from Ottawa, Lee would likely be gone already.
While his physical play was a small positive (49 hits, 29 blocked shots to finish in the top ten of both categories despite his low games played total) Lee seemed to struggle mightily with defensive zone coverage and outlet plays, and was quickly eclipsed on the depth chart by Radko Gudas once he joined the NHL club.
Any flashes of offense or puck-moving ability he once displayed never materialized in 2013 with the Lightning despite playing with such a potent group of offensive forwards.
Lee also spent almost a third of his NHL time in 2013 (7 out of 22 games) during the Lightning's insanely hot streak to start the season, and still managed to end up in the penalty box more than the scoresheet.
To be fair to Lee, in his 22 games he did play the 2nd toughest minutes for defensemen behind Victor Hedman and was similar possession-wise to the rest of the Lightning defense group. But relying primarily on eyeball test analysis, Lee didn't do anything particularly well and will likely remain buried in the AHL in 2013-2014, only to be called up on an emergency basis.
His contract expires after the 2013-2014 season and, barring some miraculous and unexpected development, will almost certainly be out of the organization come next offseason as defense prospects (particularly big righty Andrej Sustr) trickle up into the NHL.
For his performance in 2013, we grade Lee at a D.Tags: Brian Lee, Hockey, NHL, Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Lightning