Fantasy Puck Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Scott Cullen
9/26/2008 10:59:01 AM
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No team went through an overhaul like the Tampa Bay Lightning did in the offseason. The result is a team with lots of firepower which is good news for fantasy owners.

The number one line returns intact, after Vaclav Prospal's late-season visit to Philadelphia. Vincent Lecavalier has the talent to rank among the best in the game and, with a stronger supporting cast, should be able to avoid the nasty minus streak that plagued him late last season.

Martin St. Louis had a rough minus-23 last season, but it was the third time in the last four years that he's topped a point-per-game and there aren't that many wingers who have that scoring pedigree.

Prospal is a fine complementary player who has good chemistry with Lecavalier and, while his career trend of going up then down from one year to the next should mean a down season, he finally may break the trend if he spends a full season with Lecavalier.

The second line figures to be anchored by number one overall draft pick Steven Stamkos, an exciting sniper who scored 100 goals in 124 games in his two seasons of junior hockey. With veterans leading the offensive charge for the Lightning, Stamkos won't be under so much pressure to produce as an 18-year-old.

On Stamkos' wings will be two free agent additions. Ryan Malone had the best season of his career, but it came while flanking Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. Expecting him to duplicate his 27 goals and 51 points while playing alongside a rookie is a tall order.

Radim Vrbata is also coming off the best year of his career and he does have the skill to be a nice complementary scorer. Between the two, Malone provides better fantasy value because he also adds penalty minutes and Vrbata has averaged under 20 penalty minutes per season over his six-year NHL career.

The Lightning have added so many pieces over the summer, that it will be difficult for all their scoring forwards to get enough opportunities.

As it is right now, the likes of Jussi Jokinen, Mark Recchi and Michel Ouellet -- all capable of scoring 50 points -- are on the fringes and, barring a roster change, don't figure to have hugely productive seasons.

The blueline was completely re-modeled as well, with newcomers Andrej Meszaros and Matt Carle most likely to produce in power play roles.

Meszaros should emerge as a quality offensive defenceman, having already produced 50 power play points in his first three seasons.

Carle will be looking to bounce back from a horrendous 2007-2008 season that saw him score just 15 points after tallying 42 the year before as a rookie.

Holdover Paul Ranger is coming off shoulder surgery and may be knocked down a peg on the depth chart by the new acquisitions, so don't take him too early.

A possible sleeper on the blueline would be Janne Niskala, the Finnish blueliner who scored 19 goals and 44 points in the AHL last season.

If you're seeking penalty minutes from the back end, Shane O'Brien has proven to be very feisty, racking up 330 penalty minutes in 157 games, and he plays a regular shift.

The goaltending remains a question mark.

Mike Smith gets the nod as the starter to open the season, but he hasn't yet been a number one goaltender in the NHL, so it's uncertain just how well he'll fare and how much action he'll see.

If Smith falters, veteran Olaf Kolzig will surely jump at the chance to play a bigger role, having not played fewer than 50 games in a season since 1996-1997.

If all else fails, Karri Ramo could get a chance.

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