Tampa Bay Lightning Season Preview

The Lightning were a very good team last year and surprised a lot of people with how deep they went into the playoffs last year and now we are all wondering if they can pull a repeat performance or possibly take the top spot in the Southeast from the Washington Capitals. I don’t think they are quite ready to be first in the division yet and I see them taking a small step back compared to last season. They lost a couple pretty significant pieces in Simon Gagne and Sean Bergeheim and not much was done to fill those holes. This along with teams having more film on Guy Boucher’s unique defensive system makes me think that they will find themselves lower in the standings. That said, I still have them as a playoff team and most of their core has remained intact so they should be a good team for awhile now.

Forwards

Off-Season Additions and Subractions

Leaving are Simon Gagne, Sean Bergenehim and Dana Tyrell. Gagne and Bergenheim. Gagne leaving is significant but the team shouldn’t hurt that much if Steve Downie can stay healthy and take over his role on the second line. Bergenheim’s ability to drive possession and create offense despite taking over 55% of his draws in the defensive zone will be missed, but to say he’s irreplaceable is a stretch. Tyrell is a fourth liner and Tampa has enough players similar to him, so he isn’t a huge loss at all.

Tampa added more depth to the bottom half of their lineup by acquiring Tom Pyatt and Ryan Shannon, respectively. Both should help improve the team’s fourth line as they were both brought in on cheap contracts and played well in their roles last season. Their 2010 first round pick Brett Connolly will also be starting the year on the team after an impressive training camp and he will be taking over Bergenheim’s spot on the third line.

Depth Chart

LW C RW
Martin St. Louis Steven Stamkos Steve Downie
Ryan Malone Vincent Lecavalier Teddy Purcell
Nate Thompson Dominic Moore Brett Connolly
Mattias Ritola Tom Pyatt Adam Hall
Blair Jones Ryan Shannon

Even without Gagne, Tampa’s top six is still very good and the potential first line of Downie-Stamkos-St. Louis has the ability to play tough minutes and produce a lot of points while doing so. Downie is more of a “passenger” on this line than anything but he’s more than capable of producing offense and keeping up with Stamkos and St. Louis. Speaking of St. Louis, I want to say that he will see some regression this season seeing how he’s 36 and most forwards decline in their 30′s, but he’s produced at least 80 points the last five years. He’s gotta cool down at some point but I think it’s obvious that he’s a different kind of talent. Stamkos is also prone to regression but his goal-scoring has been so absurd the last couple of seasons that a “down” year from him would still be good for this team, especially when you consider his linemates.

One guy who has been on the decline is Vincent Lecavalier and the 54 points he recorded last year were a career low. At 31 years old, you really can’t expect his production to improve that much but he still plays a pretty big role on this team. Him and Malone are both on the downturn of their careers, though so that poses a big cause for concern down the road. For this year, I think this line should be solid and I’m interested to see if Purcell is a fluke or not. He outperformed his linemates (including Lecavalier) territorially last year so I’m assuming that he should be fine but I have my doubts.

When it comes to filling Bergenheim’s role and wondering which line is going to get the bulk of tough assignments, I think Nate Thompson, Adam Hall and one of Tom Pyatt or Dominic Moore can handle that role. Moore is the incumbent and played well last season so I would expect him to get the shutdown line duties. Then you wonder where Brett Connolly would fit on the lines because I’m sure they would rather have Moore center his line instead of Tom Pyatt, as Moore has much more of an offensive upside. Regardless of who is centering the line, Connolly and Ryan Shannon will likely see protected minutes and they should be very effective players in that kind of role.

The Lightning have some very good balance among their forwards but I’m not completely sure which line they will assign most of the defensive assignments to and how they will use Connolly, but neither of those should matter in the grand scheme of things. In the end, the Lightning’s offense lives and dies by Stamkos and St. Louis and those two are set to have great seasons even if they are subject to regression.

Defense

Off-Season Additions and Subtractions

Tampa parted ways with Mike Lundin, Randy Jones and Matt Smaby this off-season and the only one who seems to be any kind of loss is Lundin who was buried with tough assignments last season. He didn’t exactly fare that well against them but he played a lot of minutes at even strength and someone will have to pick up the slack.

GM Steve Yzerman made two additions to the blue-line this year by signing Matt Gilory and trading for Bruno Gervais. Tampa Bay struggled to find offense from their blue-liners last season (so bad that they needed to sign Marc-Andre Bergeron) and Gilroy should be able to help out in that area. I’m not too sure why Gervais was needed other than to provide depth because he is really nothing more than a depth defenseman.

Depth Chart:

Left Defense Right Defense
Eric Brewer Pavel Kubina
Victor Hedman Bruno Gervais
Marc-Andre Bergeron
Brett Clark
Mattias Ohlund (IR)

Something about these teams and left handed defensemen….

Anyway, Ohlund is out indefinitely to start the year and that isn’t good news because he was one of their heavy-lifters on defense and someone is going to pick up the slack for him and those are big shoes to fill when you consider that he started over 60% of his draws in the defensive zone. The ones who are going to fill in for him are Eric Brewer and Victor Hedman, and it should be a good test for the latter. Brewer and Hedman both played some pretty tough minutes last year so I think them stepping into this role shouldn’t be a huge drop-off from Ohlund. Brett Clark is capable of playing top minutes, as well so I wouldn’t rule him out either.

The issue with Tampa Bay’s defense is their defensemen who play top minutes do not have much of an offensive upside, aside from Clark. Meanwhile, players like Pavel Kubina, Matt Gilroy and Marc-Andre Bergeron can produce a lot of points from the blue line but all three of them get the benefit of protection and both MAB and Gilroy need soft ice-time to be effective. I was a little confused that they signed Gilroy because he’s essentially the same player as Bergeron, who they elected to re-sign as an unrestricted free agent. Although, I’m sure it relates to Kubina’s disappointing point-production on the powerplay and at even strength. Tampa has a strong top defense pairing but the depth after that is going to give their fans a lot of headaches when they get pinned in their own zone, at least until Ohlund returns.

Goaltending

Goaltending was the one area where Tampa Bay struggled mightily in or at least that was the case before they traded for Dwayne Roloson. The cheap tandem of Dan Ellis and Mike Smith proved to be a huge flop and Tampa decided to give Roloson $3 mil to stick around and I think he should give them at least average goaltending for this season. He was great last season but he is going to be 43 this year and he’s been a pretty average goalie since the lockout. I’m not saying that he’s going to have a bad season, but I wouldn’t expect Tampa Bay’s goaltending woes to go away this year, especially since his backup is Mathieu Garon, who is roughly a replacement level goalie. At the very least, this duo should be better than the recent disasters in net they’ve had.

Final Thoughts

Tampa Bay really didn’t do enough this off-season for me to say that they will finish above Washington in the standings, but the good news is that they were a good team last year and should be able to make the playoffs with the roster they have. They have a strong powerplay that’s going to get better with the addition of Gilroy but Lunding leaving and Ohlund on the IR for awhile means their PK will take a big hit. I could see them giving Washington a scare like last season but they might run into similar issues where they give up too many goals to stay in the division hunt. I’m also not completley sold on their goaltending so I’m reluctant to put them at anything higher than fifth in the East if I was going to predict the standings.

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