Tampa Bay Lightning Season Preview
TEAM NAME: Tampa Bay Lightning
TEAM PAYROLL: $43.667 million
GENERAL MANAGER: Jay Feaster, entering his seventh season in the GM’s chair.
HEAD COACH: John Tortorella, entering his eighth season as the coach.
The Tampa Bay Lightning is trying to make serious noise in the playoffs before their “window of opportunity” closes. The way management sees it, this is the last year that number one defenseman, Dan Boyle, and top six forward, Vaclav Prospal are under contract. Their goal is to capture the Southeast Division crown. Seeing as they were 4 points from catching the Thrashers and the division, they have a legitimate shot at it this year. The team expects to win the Southeast Division crown, and thus guarantee themselves at worst the third seed, as well as home ice advantage.
To Take Charge
Thirty-eight year old Captain Tim Taylor underwent a hip-resurfacing surgery on September sixth, and will be off the ice until at least February. Despite not being on the ice, the team captain will still be around the team, facilitating bonding and helping new members become acquainted with their teammates. With Taylor out of the lineup, Marty St. Louis has been given an ‘A’ to join Lecavalier and Richards. The Three Musketeers will be looked at for the leadership in the locker room. The three franchise players must use this year as an audition for next year’s open captain’s ‘C,’ as “Tails” has stated this will be his last year.
On the Rush
The Bolts have a very impressive group up front, as it contains superstars Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, and Vaclav Prospal. Last year, St. Louis and Lecavalier had 102 and 108 points respectively, and Lecavalier captured the Rocket Richard Trophy. St. Louis (43-59-102) and Lecavalier (52-56-108) played together for most of the year, and fed off each other. Their linemate, Vaclav Prospal, is set for a far better year this year. Last year, he appeared snake bitten, recording 14 goals and 55 points, his lowest total since 2003-04. He appears ready to improve and forget last year. His numbers since the 2001-02 season have fluctuated: 55-79-54-80-55, and if history repeats itself, it appears that next year he should be near the 80 point mark once again. Brad Richards suffered last year without sharpshooter Fredrik Modin. He played with a hodgepodge of wingers, none of whom was able to capitalize on the numerous opportunities he provided for them. This year, he has Jan Hlavac, Michel Ouelett and Andreas Karlsson competing to be on his line. Hlavac and Ouelett appear the favorites, as Hlavac had 28 goals with the NYR in 2000-01, and Ouelett has a history with Richards from their days at Rimouski. Also added this year is veteran Chris Gratton, in his third stint with the Bolts, who should be good for around 30 points, as well as an improved penalty kill.
Covering the D-Zone
As in years past, Danny Boyle will be the Lightning’s number one defenseman. He is an offensive defenseman, and last year set career highs with 20 goals, and 63 points. Last season, on numerous occasions Boyle played over 30 minutes a game. He finished the year second in the league in time on ice. He led the team in ice time (27:03) by playing on the power play, during the penalty kill, and in even strength situations. His defensive partner again will be Paul Ranger. Ranger suffered a knee injury toward the end of the year, but came back to finish his sophomore year with 4 goals and 28 points. Interestingly enough, in his regular season career thus far, he’s had 5 goals, four of those have been game winners, and the Bolts have won every regular season game he’s scored in. Filip Kuba, a defenseman brought in last year had the best offensive season of his career (15-22-37). A big body, at 6’3” he is still working on playing the body more. Brad Lukowich returned this summer to the Lightning, for his second tour of duty, after he and the NJD dispatched the Bolts from the postseason in 6 games. He returns a much more mature player, and hopes to improve his offense production (4,8,12). He’s believed to be more positionally sound, and will help shore up the defense that lost Nolan Pratt, Luke Richardson, and Cory Sarich this summer. Shane O’Brien, the trade deadline acquisition, at 6’2”, 224 lbs. is expected to have a higher offensive output now that he’s in a system that allows him to skate with the puck.
Guarding the Net
Goaltending once again is going to be the facet that can either make or break the Tampa Bay Lightning. Marc Denis, acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets last year appeared to be a mistake, going 17-18-2 with a 3.19 GAA and a .883 SV%. He lost the start because of these far from superb numbers. He has to get better this year – as there is no way for him to possibly get worse. After losing the start, he lost the backup’s job to 20 year old rookie Karri Ramo, and finished the year in street clothes. Overage rookie, Johan Holmqvist officially took over the reigns from Denis in March, when he was anointed the playoff starter. It had become apparent that the skaters (as well as the coaching staff) felt more comfortable with the Swede in net. “Homer” finished the year with a 29-15-3 record, with a 2.85 GAA and a .893 save percentage. Competing with these two veterans is Karri Ramo, who last year, found himself as the backup for all six playoff games after playing 69:31 minutes in the regular season. He seemed ready – if not willing – to play if the call came. Ramo comes into camp after a year in AHL Springfield, where he went 15-24-1, with a 3.13 GAA and a .906 SV%. The AHL All-Star is regarded as the reason that the Falcons weren’t worse.
Vaclav Prospal – Vincent Lecavalier – Martin St. Louis
Michel Ouellet – Brad Richards – Jan Hlavac
Andre Roy – Chris Gratton – Nick Tarnasky
Jason Ward – Ryan Craig – Andreas Karlsson
Dan Boyle – Paul Ranger
Filip Kuba – Shane O’Brien
Brad Lukowich – Doug Janik
The media believes this team will have a very hard time getting into the postseason because it has so much of its payroll tied up in the “Tampa Trio.” The “Three Musketeers” will once again find that the responsibility falls on them to win games. Until the Bolts find an undisputable Number One Guy, questions will continue to arise about the goaltending and thus the team’s playoff abilities. Once again, if the offense produces, this team becomes a playoff contender – but should the offense falter, the goaltending and defense isn’t strong enough to carry the team into the playoffs.
Last year, the Bolts relied on the “MVP line” (St. Louis, Lecavalier, Prospal) to win games too often. This year, the Lightning has added scoring depth with the acquisitions of Chris Gratton, Michel Ouelett, and Jan Hlavac, as well as the return of Andreas Karlsson, Jason Ward and Nick Tarnasky. St. Louis and Lecavalier appear not to have lost a step over the summer, and will again feed off each other. Vaclav Prospal, the third player on the MVP line should bounce back from his horrible season last year, and get near the 80 point mark. Brad Richards, will also improve his numbers from last year, and should be able to get near 100 points with the help of his new linemates. The goaltending situation, while still shaky appears better than last year, as Denis will not be handed the start on a silver platter, and if Holmqvist falters, there are two steady goaltenders willing and ready to take the job from him. With improved offensive production and goa
ltending, this team appears to be geared for serious playoff contention – maybe even a Cup run.