Last season: 46-23-11 103 pts, 2nd Southeast, 5th Eastern Conference
Additions: Matieu Garon, Bruno Gervais, Matt Gilroy, Tom Pyatt, Alexandre Picard, Richard Petiot, Michel Oulette, Trevor Smith
Losses: Simon Gagne, Sean Bergenheim, Mike Smith, Randy Jones, Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby, Mathieu Roy, Marc Pouliot
Offense: Tampa Bay possesses one of the most gifted scorers in the entire National Hockey League in youngster Steven Stamkos, who has already scored 119 goals in his first 3 seasons. Stamkos figures to be a 50+ goal threat and among the NHL’s leaders in goal scoring for the next decade. It doesn’t stop there, as the Lightning also have Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier as scoring threats up front. Veteran Ryan Malone is also there, as is resident hothead Steve Downie, whom the Lightning rely on for offense even if he’s too much of a loose cannon to be relied upon. The guy with the most to prove is probably Teddy Purcell, a castoff from the Los Angeles organization who had a decent year and a good playoff for Tampa in 2010-11. Tampa’s top 6 is solid, while their bottom 6 might be a bit thin. Still with the talent in the top two lines, I expect the Lighning to score in buckets once again.
Defense: The addition of Matt Gilroy will give the Bolts some more firepower from the back end, to help complement Power-Play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron. 3rd year blueliner Victor Hedman continues to improve, and fellow Swede and veteran Mattias Ohlund are serviceable contributors. Former St. Louis Blues’ captain Eric Brewer, acquired via trade last March, is looking to recreate himself in Tampa as well. The Lightning’s defense corps wouldn’t be listed among the league’s best, but it also shouldn’t be an Achilles’ heel.
Goaltending: Last year at this time, the Lightning headed into the season with Mike Smith and Dan Ellis as their goaltending tandem. Neither were deemed sufficient for the Bolts to compete, and veteran Dwayne Roloson was acquired via trade with the NY Islanders. Ellis was sent packing to Anaheim, and Smith departed for Phoenix via free agency. Cedric Desjardins, the team’s best goaltending prospect is also now with Colorado. At age 41, Roloson seemed to find his fountain of youth in Tampa, helping the Lightning within a game of the Stanley Cup final. Roloson should be a solid #1 this year, as long as age doesn’t catch up with him. Now in the fold as backup is Matieu Garon, a very good backup goalie who can spell #1 in stretches if needed. Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus are waiting in the wings with the Bolts’ AHL affiliate in Norfolk. If Roloson can milk one more outstanding season out of an already solid career, goaltending should be a strength for the Lightning.
Standout Player: Steven Stamkos
Already one of the league’s most exciting players, look for Stamkos to carry more of the team’s fortunes on his shoulders. He will have capable linemates, and if you believe he hasn’t yet reached his potential at 21, he may be able to reach the now-mythical 60 goal level.
Prediction: 2nd Southeast, 4th Eastern Conference.
The Lightning will find themselves in a dogfight for the Southeast title with the Washington Capitals. Safe money says the Bolts fall just short of the Caps, but are set up for yet another deep playoff run. If Washington falls off the pace even just a bit, Tampa could win the division and improve to a top 3 seed in the East.