|From boy to man in less than 365 days.|
Last Year's Results
34 wins, 36 losses, 12 OTL, 80 points, 25th overall in the league
The Tampa Bay Lightning have had one of the more roller coaster like experiences in recent years going from premiere Stanley Cup winning team to three years of missing the playoffs as the team's ownership group treated it like their personal fantasy team and fought amongst themselves. The Lightning got it's act together this off-season with a new owner bringing in hall of famer Steve Yzerman to become the team's general manager. Yzerman set about making a number of player and organizational changes including bringing in AHL coach of the year Guy Boucher to be the team's head coach. The Lightning have a wealth of talent on both ends of the ice but it remains to be scene if the change in management can return the Lightning to success from the cluster of problems it's been suffering for the last three years.
Steven Stamkos exploded in his sophomore campaign scoring 51 goals and lighting the league on fire. The former first overall pick was the subject of criticism for having a weak rookie campaign in his debut but is now considered one of the best centers in the game. Playing with Stamkos will be one of the best right wingers of the last decade in Martin St. Louis. The diminutive forward has been one of the most consistent point scorers since his arrival in Tampa Bay. St. Louis is the James Brown of hockey in that he's the hardest working man in the league who's talented at playmaking but can also rip the puck. Completing the first line will be Steve Downie who seems like a relic from a by-gone era. Downie plays an extremely aggressive physical game that saw him sitting in the penalty box for 208 penalty minutes last season while still displaying a top notch scoring touch. It's pretty much a certainty that Downie's penalty minute count will fall in a new structured system under Boucher but he remains one of the more versatile and interesting players in the league.
Centering the second line will be another former first overall pick in Vincent Lecavalier who's also the captain of the team. Lecavalier has been one of the most consistent scorers in the league before finding a plague of injuries and a hellish hockey experience quelling his production somewhat in recent years. It will be interesting to see if Lecavalier can find his mojo again under a new coach in a new culture. If Lecavalier can rebound to his elite form, the Lightning will be one of the scariest teams down the middle. Simon Gagne waived his no-trade clause this off-season specially to be traded to Tampa Bay to play under GM Steve Yzerman. Gagne is a fantastic complimentry player who's a very quick skater and has an excellent offensive acumen. The only concern with Gagne is that he's a bit fragile and faces injury concerns each season. The Lightning hope that Gagne will click with Lecavalier resulting in both finding their best games. Completing this line will be power forward Ryan Malone. The American power forward isn't the most natural offensive player but he makes up for it by being a pest around the crease and playing a gritty brand of hockey. Malone also displays a respectable defensive game while being able to contribute on the penalty kill.
Dominic Moore was one of Yzerman's off-season acquisitions as he was signed to center the Lightning's third line. Moore is a defensive oriented center who offers a hard work ethic and decent penalty killing. Moore also contributes a respectable amount of points for a bottom six player. Teddy Purcell was acquired in a trade last season to be a depth player in the Lightning organization. Purcell is a second tier scorer who's had difficulty sticking in the NHL but looks to be a fixture on the third line this year. The big 6-2 Purcell has been the recipient of praise from Yzerman this pre-season for his surprising skill level. Rounding out the third line will be Islander refugee Sean Bergenheim who's another of Yzerman's signings. Bergenheim is a decent role player who can plug into virtually any role asked of him while being adequete in the offensive zone. It will be interesting to see how Bergenheim will respond in the Lightning's system now that he's out of a largely bad situation with the Islanders.
Rounding out the forward group will be depth winger Adam Hall who's another versatile player that can play any role asked of him. The former Seattle Thunderbird (Go T-Birds!) Nate Thompson will be centering the fourth line and be the toolbox player for the Lightning. Thompson is an adept penalty killer who also provides energy and physicality to the lineup. Completing the fourth line will be 21-year old role player Dana Tyrell who will be getting his feet wet in the NHL this season.
Perhaps the biggest signing of Yzerman's this off-season was of minute eating defensemen Pavel Kubina who's quietly one of the better and more consistent defensemen in the game. At 6-4 Kubina has the size to excel in the defensive zone while having a booming shot and a respectable offensive game. A re-tread in Tampa Bay, Kubina broke into the league with the Tampa Bay Lightning and was a member of their Stanley Cup team. Mattias Ohlund has been one of the most consistent defensive defensemen since his arrival in the league over a decade ago. The big Swede possesses the the size and strength to shutdown a defensive zone and occasionally throw bone jarring hits. Ohlund can also be an asset in the offensive zone with his big slapshot as well. Unfortunately Ohlund will miss the first two weeks of the season with a swelled knee.
Former second overall pick Victor Hedman has been one of the most promising defensemen to come through the draft in recent memory. The 6-6 Swede was reminisicent of Chris Pronger in his debut last season in that he displayed an intelligent offensive IQ, great defensive instincts, and a bit of a dark side to his game. Hedman is going to be a downright scary player when he hits his stride and should blossom into a premiere franchise defenseman. Another key signing by Yzerman, versatile shot-blocking defenseman Brett Clark will look to add stability to the Lightning's blueline. Clark offers a respectable transition game and decent speed but lacks the consistency to be more than a second tier defenseman.
Randy Jones is like that Christmas fruitcake that gets passed from person to person every year. The depth defender became the punching bag for the faithful of his last two teams respectively. Jones is an adept puck-moving defenseman who can eat minutes when paired with the right partner. However his defensive zone work is questionable bordering on maddening. Big depth defenseman Mike Lundin will likely play his first full complete season with the Lightning this year. Lundin is a capable minutes eater who doesn't necessarily excel at any one aspect of the game but can adequately eat minutes doing all the little things well. Physical defenseman Matt Smaby will fill in as the seventh defenseman.
The Lightning will be going with a pair of former teammates to form a goalie tandem with no clear number one. Mike Smith had a god awful season last year struggling on a lousy team and hampered by injury concerns including a frightening bout with PCS. Smith is one of the most competitive goalies in the league playing a technical style that suits his big 6-4 frame. Smith hasn't been able to play up to his innate abilities but could be one of the bigger sleepers this year. Splitting time with Smith will be another Yzerman off-season signee in Dan Ellis who comes to Tampa Bay after a few quality seasons in Nashville. The finanically downtrodden goaltender is a respectable 1B goaltender who can take over the reigns when he gets hot. Look for the two to split time down the middle and for whoever is hottest at the moment to be the one the team rides.
After three miserable years as the play toy of a couple disinterested billionares the Lightning look to be a team on the upswing with hockey people finally running the organization. There's a lot of good things going on in Tampa Bay and on paper this team looks downright frightening to play against. The question for this team will be how quickly can they gel and how quickly can they put the years of hockey hell behind them? Right now the Lightning are a bubble playoff team. Look for them to come in somewhere between 12th-17th this year.
BVB's Projected Opening Night Lineup
Martin St. Louis - 31 G/53 A 84 P
Steven Stamkos - 51 G/51 A 102 P
Steven Downie - 24 G/35 A 59 P
Simon Gagne - 24 G/36 A 60 P
Vincent Lecavalier - 27 G/45 A 72 P
Ryan Malone - 23 G/27 A 50 P
Sean Bergenheim - 12 G/14 A 26 P
Dominic Moore - 9 G/15 A 24 P
Teddy Purcell - 11 G/14 A 25 P
Adam Hall - 3 G/4 A 7 P
Nate Thompson - 2 G/9 A 11 P
Dana Tyrell - 5 G/14 A 19 P
Pavel Kubina - 7 G/30 A 37 P
Brett Clark - 2 G/15 A 17 P
Victor Hedman - 6 G/23 A 29 P
Randy Jones - 4 G/20 A 24 P
Mike Lundin - 4 G/15 A 19 P
Matt Smaby - 0 G/3 A 3 P
Mattias Ohlund - 2 G/16 A 18 P
Mike Smith - 24-20-5 | 2.81 GAA | .910 Sv%
Dan Ellis - 17-13-3 | 2.90 GAA | .903 Sv%