Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of his hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Lightning.
Like a fine wine, Martin St. Louis keeps getting older and every year everyone keeps saying the same old thing – he should slow down this year and we will see a drop in his production. The thing is that he hasn’t. This man is an incredible human being that at a tender age of 38 led the National Hockey League in points. Remember how we are always reminded that NHL is getting younger and faster – Pshaw! And that to win you need younger superstars, that the market for aging old guys is fading away? Hooey! Marty, I guess he is used to it by now, has always proven nay-sayers wrong.
Stamkos did his thing again. Can there be a more consistent goal scorer in NHL right now (Ovie did slip up for a few years)? He was on pace to crack another 50-goal season and on pace to play all 82 games again. Not sure if it is the proper nutrition, working out with Gary Roberts, or just being only 23-years old – must be nice – there is something about this kid and avoiding injuries. For the fourth straight season he played every single game.
There was no issues with scoring goals last season – 148 goals was good for 5th in the league. The issues were in net. Anders Lindback was brought in to stop the bleeding and while he and Mathieu Garon split the time in net, both could not stop the puck often enough. Lindback has a .902 SV% and Garon finished with .897 SV%. The sloppy defense and lack of really good netminding caused Steve Yzerman to go out and get another goalie. Ben Bishop was brought in at the trade deadline for Cory Conacher from Ottawa Senators. He was the fourth goalie to start for Tampa Bay last year and performed well enough to earn him a two-year extension worth $4.6 million.
Guy Boucher could not get the team to stop letting in goals and found himself out of a job. To replace him and his coaching staff Steve Yzerman brought in Jon Cooper, George Gwozdecky, and Rick Bowness. Jon Cooper was the head coach of their AHL squad and led them to a Calder Cup in 2011-2012 season. Gwozdecky has spent the last 19 years coaching University of Denver and Bowness has over 24 years of NHL experience with teams like Vancouver, Winnipeg, Boston, Ottawa, New York Islanders, and Phoenix.
Tampa Bay Lightning bought out their long time captain Vincent Lecavalier. It was a move that everyone saw coming, but I bet it will still feel very weird for the Tampa fans to see this man wear black and orange this year.
The replacement for Vinny came in form of an ex-Red Wings turn UFA Valtteri Filppula. He will be the second line center and has proven to be very good two-way forward. The price for Valtteri was not low and this is possible the reason why he could not stay in Detroit. A five-year contract at $5 million per season is a huge deal and it will come with certain expectations, especially for a player with only one 60-point season.
TampaBay also got to draft Jonathan Drouin in the 1st round 3rd overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He is said to be NHL ready and all reports suggest to see him play wing next to Stamkos. There is no telling where he may end up and current reports may suggest that his early struggles may see him with sheltered minutes. Whatever you may think about this year, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this kid will be a top-six talent for a very long time.
The obvious media-hype machine will be lazered in on how and where will Jonathon Drouin play. The kid must be used to it by now and I am sure Steven Stamkos has some advice for him on how to deal with it all as a hyped-up rookie. There is pressure to perform but in retrospect he is only 18 years old. What to expect from him? Well, he is one of the few rookies favored to win the Calder trophy and while there is competition from other players, it will all depend on where he will find his fit. If he played on the left wing with Stamkos, he will no doubt be the favorite to win it, but if he is forced to play on the third line and limited to 10 to 12 minutes a game, that will surely force him out of the contention.
Drouin may eat up the media attention, but the fans know what to worry about this year – goaltending. There is no doubt in my mind that all of the Tampa Bay faithful’s anxiety is based around how well Ben Bishop will perform. He will be the starter on day one, but after that he will have to play well to keep the starter’s job. Anders Lindback had his chance last year to prove as a solid number-one option, but failed to do so. This year he will have to battle for starts and this could be advantageous for Tampa if both goalies perform well.
The new division is a story in itself. The Southeast of old was, to say the least was a rather weak division. Many thought Tampa could have won that division with just slightly better defense and better goaltending. The reality of the new division is simply not so. With addition of Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Detroit to the mix creates a much tougher situation. Last year the Southeast had only 1 playoff team and that was the division winner Capitals. This year this division has five teams that made the playoffs last year. Does this change the outlook for Tampa Bay’s management and force them to rebuild? Or do they take a shot and go for it?
Players to Watch
I keep mentioning goaltending in this preview, but that is how important it will be for this team. Ben Bishop especially is worth a look this season. He seemed to be the under-appreciated in Ottawa due to Craig Anderson, yet posted excellent numbers while Anderson was out. Regardless, he was deemed expendable. There is the interesting fact that this could be the tallest goalie combo in NHL as both goalies are over 6’6” tall.
Brett Connolly is a young right wing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Connolly is a 1st rounder, 6th overall draft pick, but failed to find traction in NHL so far. He only played 5 NHL games last season, but found great offensive success playing for the AHL squad in Syracuse. In 11-12 season he did manage to put up 15 points in 68 games for the Lightning and this year he has a chance to get a starting job with a strong pre-season showing. I think that Connolly should find some bottom-six minutes throughout the season and give Tampa some depth scoring.
Onderj Palat is another young gun that is trying to make the team and secure a starting job. While having very strong European campaigns, Palat is starting to adapt to the North American style in fashion. He performed on par with Connolly and was almost a point per game player in AHL. In his 14-game call up to the big club he managed 4 points in 14 games. He can be a very good playmaker and just like the case with Connolly their new big club coach knows them very well as he was their AHL club head coach.
There is no reason to deny that Tampa Bay Lightning are dynamic and offensively-talented. The only doubt there is how good will they be defensively and whether their goaltending hold up. The future is bright for this club, but they can surprise anyone with the amount of firepower they have. The new division will be just too tough as the youth will surely struggle with diversity at the NHL level. Look for them to finish in the middle of the pack, but miss the playoffs for the third year in a row.
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