From the penthouse to the outhouse in four years, the Tampa Bay Lightning have new owners, practically an entirely new roster and eyes from around the league on them to see just what transpires in Hockey Bay.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
2007-08: 31-42-9, 71 points (fifth in Southeast)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: In a league full of arenas with new HD jumbotrons, the Lightning unveiled the coolest one of them all. After that, well … OK, Vinny Lecavalier was great, but he ended the season on a down note after Matt Cooke wrecked his shoulder (which could make those Lightning-Penguins preseason contests interesting). Jeff Halpern went on a scoring spree after being acquired at the trade deadline, but he blew out his knee at the world championships. The biggest development before the sale of the team was finalized and the franchise went on its shopping spree was securing the No. 1 pick and adding a cornerstone-type talent in Steven Stamkos.
WHAT WENT WRONG: When you scan the list of the other 29 NHL teams, and you can count the ones that had less points than you with no hands, it wasn’t a good season. Dan Boyle’s skate dropping from its perch in his stall in the dressing room and slicing open his wrist after a preseason game was only the beginning. The goaltending continued to be a problem, there was no offense to speak of beyond the top line and the defense was mostly ineffective. If Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Vinny Prospal didn’t produce, the Lightning didn’t win. Prospal and Brad Richards were traded and the season ended with Lecavalier’s injury and the eventual departures of coach John Tortorella and GM Jay Feaster.
ARRIVALS: G Olie Kolzig, LW Ryan Malone, LW Vinny Prospal, RW Radim Vrbata, RW, Evgeni Artyukhin, LW Gary Roberts, RW Mark Recchi, LW Brandon Bochenski, C Adam Hall, LW David Koci, C Wyatt Smith, D Andrej Meszaros, D Matt Carle, D Andrew Hutchinson, D Janne Niskala, Santa Claus, Easter Bunny (oops, got a little carried away there)
DEPARTURES: D Dan Boyle, D Filip Kuba, D Brad Lukowich, D Alexandre Picard, D Doug Janik, RW Junior Lessard, LW Andre Roy, G Marc Denis
IMPACT PROSPECTS: C Steven Stamkos, D Ty Wishart
Will this team keep 15 forwards, and who actually gets to play?
The Lightning are set to enter camp with 17 forwards that played at least 18 games in the NHL last season. Oh, and don’t forget Stamkos (juniors), Artyukhin (Russia) and Ryan Craig (injury). The top six are probably set and Halpern’s injury opens up a spot on the third line for a while, but there are a lot of bodies fighting for those final five or six spots up front.
Can the kiddie corps hold up on the blue line?
Barring another acquisition (and the Lightning will likely still have room under the cap to make another one), the top five defenseman on the opening night roster will be 25 or younger, and the sixth guy could be an under-30 guy light on NHL experience (Hutchinson or Niskala). There is talent there with guys like Paul Ranger, Meszaros and Carle, but if Kolzig thought he had a green defense in front of him last season, he’s in for a bit of déjà vu this fall.
PROGNOSIS: Former ESPN analyst Barry Melrose takes over a team that finished last in the NHL in 2007-08 … and expectations soared with each new addition. Forgetting the owner’s silly prediction of a division title, making the playoffs is the barometer for this season. There is plenty of talent up front, and plenty of young talent on defense. It will be interesting to see how the goalie rotation shakes out between Mike Smith and Kolzig, but expect a lot of 6-5 games in Hockey Bay this winter. If Smith is the real deal and Carle and Meszaros have bounce-back years, that silly prediction just might come true. Of course the defense could be bad, Lecavalier’s shoulder might not be right and this whole experiment could be a train wreck. But hey, it is going to be entertaining one way or another.
|Vinny Prospal||Vinny Lecavalier||Martin St. Louis|
|Ryan Malone||Steven Stamkos||Radim Vrbata|
|Jussi Jokinen||Jeff Halpern||Evgeni Artyukhin|
|Gary Roberts/Michel Ouellet||Ryan Craig/Chris Gratton||Mark Recchi/Adam Hall|
|Andrej Meszaros||Paul Ranger|
|Matt Carle||Shane O’Brien|
|Mike Lundin||Janne Niskala|
|Andrew Hutchinson||Matt Smaby|
*NOTE: This is not necessarily an attempt to guess line combinations