The Tampa Bay Lighting have been one of the most active and successful teams in the 2008 offseason. After a very disappointing finish in 2007-08, the Lightning seem poised to make a run deep into the playoffs again. In an already weak division, the Lightning’s new roster will most likely give them a solid chance to win the Southeast and have a serious edge in the next postseason. >
The Lightning’s first move was to add veteran Gary Roberts and power forward Ryan Malone from Pittsburgh. Roberts has been on a number of successful playoff teams, and his veteran leadership has made him a welcome presence in every team he’s played on. Malone had a breakout season last year, and while Pittsburgh would have most likely liked to have kept the Pennsylvania native, his 51 points and strong playoff showing gave him a strong point of leverage with which to command a large contract. After signing Malone to a seven year deal, Tampa added former Lightning winger Vaclav Prospal, who spent 2007-08 with the Flyers.
After the unrestricted free agency period opened on July 1, the Lightning added another 50 point scorer, when they lured Radim Vrbata away from Phoenix with a three year, $9 million dollar deal. The Lightning added more veteran leadership, when they signed 40 year old Mark Recchi to a one year deal. A few nuts-n-bolts type role players were added in Brandon Bochenski, Andrew Hutchinson, Adam Hall, Evgeny Artyukhin and Janne Niskala, while a solid backup goalie was acquired in Olaf Kolzig. Young defenseman Matt Carle was acquired from San Jose, along with prospect Ty Wishart. However, these acquisitions came at the expense of veteran defensemen Brad Lukowich and Dan Boyle. Boyle had been signed to a long term deal worth $40 million, only days before the team was sold, and the new owners decided to clear cap room by moving the Canadian defenseman to San Jose. To follow up this impressive rebuilding effort in the early days of July 2008, the Lightning locked up superstar center Vincent Lecavalier to an 11 year deal which will pay him $85 million over the rest of his stay with the Lightning.
This active offseason followed a draft which saw the Lightning pick highly regarded Steve Stamkos with the number one pick. The hiring of Barry Melrose, a proven NHL coach in the early ’90s, along with the change in ownership that has led to such sweeping changes in the organization has certainly pointed the Lightning back in the right direction, after they hit rock bottom last year.