After winning the Stanley Cup in 2004 the Tampa Bay Lightning went on a decline that plagues so many Champions. The Bolts won three games in the next two postseasons and have not qualified for the playoffs since, even finishing last in the league in ‘08’09. However, this put them in great drafting position for the next two years and in May 2010 the Lightning hit the front office jackpot when owner Jeff Vinik made Steve Yzerman their new General Manager. In the short time since the protégé of Detroit’s Super GM Ken Holland took office he has improved the Bolts tremendously, putting them in position to be a future challenger to the Washington Capitals grip on the Southeast Division title.
Offense: A The first pick overall in the 2008 entry draft, Steven Stamkos, has electrified the Tampa offense with a 51 goal sophomore season. Blessed with a cannon of a shot and a seemingly unstoppable one timer, the 20 year old center lined up with veteran Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie most of last season. St. Louis showed the NHL that he’s still got it last year while Downie walked the thin line of first line point producer and agitator. Captain Vincent Lecavalier will continue second line center duties this season, and will probably see a boost in his point totals playing with offseason acquisition Simon Gagne. Former Montreal Canadien Dominic Moore should provide some solid secondary scoring from third line center.
Defense: C- The Tampa Bay defensive corps is nothing to write home about. 2009 second overall draft pick Victor Hedman had a mediocre first season in the NHL and will look to improve upon his offensive numbers and cut down on mistakes in his own end. In the offseason the Bolts blueline lost the asset of Kurtis Foster’s blistering slapshot, however they brought back former Lightning d-man Pavel Kubina who should fit in perfectly on an already potent powerplay. Mattias Ohlund will continue to provide solid defensive play along with Mike Lundin and Brett Clark, both of who should see more ice time this season. The Bolts back end should improve this season but will still have its hands full against the higher tempo offenses in the conference, such as the goal machine division rival Capitals.
Goaltending: B+ Yzerman made a fantastic free agent signing when he brought in Nashville goaltender Dan Ellis. He should split time between the pipes with 28 year old netminder Mike Smith. Expect many good performances as both will try to solidify their starting place as the Lightning push to make the postseason for the first time in 3 years.
Key Acquisitions: Simon Gagné, Pavel Kubina, Dominic Moore, Dan Ellis Key Losses: Kurtis Foster, Antero Niittymaki, Andrej Meszaros