Today we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning who last year finished with a 24-40-18 record in the Southeast. A rough year in quite a few areas, with a coaching change sixteen games into the season being the first thing to recover from. The Barry Melrose experiment didn’t work. The talk of trading Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and spatting between owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie was all a recipe for disaster. Even Steven Stamkos couldn’t get on the right foot till midway through the season. This year however should be significantly different. Head Coach Rick Tocchet will be running things from the start, and there is a ton of offense and a bolstered defense that should turn things around. The question mark here is goaltending.
Here’s the breakdown:
Offense: A forward unit that has Lecavalier, St. Louis, Ryan Malone, Stamkos, and newly acquired Alex Tanguay provides Tampa with a potentially potent offense that won’t lack for scoring and will be tough to play against. The top two lines if productive can be as dangerous as any. Scoring last year was an issue at times, and with all the changes and chaos going on with the team, no wonder. This year however should be different. Lecavalier is here to stay as was proved by management, which denied trading him all along. With the others mentioned and Stamkos a year older, the only question offensively is can the 3rd and 4th lines provide supplemental scoring?
Defense: Veteran Mattias Ohlund signed as a free agent is going to add veteran leadership to this team and he will also be counted on to tutor top pick and fellow countryman Vicktor Hedman. Also added were Matt Walker, Kurtis Foster and David Hale. These additions are certainly going to make this unit look alot different than last year’s bunch. If Andrej Meszaros and Paul Ranger stay healthy, this unit is going to be pretty solid. There is alot of offensive upside to them as well as solid defensive ability. A full training camp for all with Tocchet will be the prefect tonic.
Goaltending: As with many teams this area is the question mark. Mike Smith who wants the number one spot was not at his best last year due to some concussion issues. He’s 27 and should be entering his prime, but has yet to emerge as a true top goalie. He will be backed up and pushed by former Flyer Antii Nittymaki who also has never emerged as a true number one, but has provided solid backup duty. If both these goalies stay healthy and push each other, it could be a very solid duo and together could be enough to get the Lightning back into the playoffs.
Coaching: Rick Tocchet has a full training camp to get his players ready to play his style and adapt to his methods. They promise to be hard nosed, hard working, and pack some offensive punch. If they play with the snarl that he did and get enough quality defense and solid goaltending, they can certainly surprise and make a huge improvement over last year.
Overview: The main focus with this club is their offensive talents. With five legitimate natural goal scorers this team is going to give others fits. They may end up winning alot of games 5-4, but they certainly shouldn’t lack for excitement. If the defense holds up and the goaltending is solid, making the playoffs should be a goal that can be met. They seem to have a solid mix of veterans to go along with the youth of Stamkos and Hedman. Things are looking up in Tampa.
Tomorrow we look at the Atlanta Thrashers.
Thanks for reading.