Fantasy Puck Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Scott Cullen
9/4/2009 10:31:06 AM
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A team that tried to rebuild on the fly last summer, the Tampa Bay Lightning return just four players who finished with more than 20 points last season.

Diminutive winger Martin St. Louis reached 80 points for the fourth time in the last five seasons and the 34-year-old doesn't appear to be slowing down yet. He should still be an elite scoring winger this season.

While Vincent Lecavalier has been tremendously durable, missing more than six games just once in his ten-year career. However, injuries are creeping up more and more and Lecavalier has had shoulder and wrist surgery in the last two offseasons and his 67 points last year was his lowest post-lockout total.

Given these trends, it might be better to exercise caution when it comes time to picking Lecavalier, getting him late enough that his 100-point upside could pay off, yet not too soon that you get stuck with a 70-point scorer who has a minus rating in each of the last two seasons.

Though Ryan Malone only finished with 45 points, he was still a useful fantasy contributor due to his 26 goals, 98 penalty minutes and plus rating.

Newly-signed winger Alex Tanguay adds much-needed firepower to the Lightning attack. Coming off the most injury-plagued season of his career, during which he was limited to just 50 games, Tanguay finished with a career-low 41 points and, just as he has in every season of his nine-year NHL career, registered a plus rating (plus-13). If he's skating alongside Vincent Lecavalier, and is healthy, Tanguay should have a shot at surpassing 75 points -- a feat he has already accomplished four times.

Those four veterans are known commodities, to some degree, whereas Steven Stamkos enters his second season with a lot more promise than he did in his rookie campaign.

After he was drafted first overall, Stamkos struggled to adjust to the NHL, but improved conditioning and extra work paved the way for a tremendous finish, during which Stamkos scored 13 goals and added eight assists for 21 points in the final 22 games. Maybe he's not ready to be a point-per-game scorer in his second season, but Stamkos ought to improve on his 46-point rookie season.

There aren't many more Lightning forwards with fantasy appeal, though agitator Steve Downie warrants consideration if he's going to play regularly. Downie has 18 points and 138 penalty minutes in 61 career NHL games, but has 50 points and 244 penalty minutes in 49 career AHL games. A full NHL season could easily produce 30 points, 200 penalty minutes and a couple of suspensions.

The blueline was a decided area of weakness for the Lightning last season, so newcomers may be the best bets for fantasy value. Certainly, in keeper leagues, number two overall pick Victor Hedman has tremendous potential to be a top-tier defenceman.

Veteran Mattias Ohlund, who figures to pair with fellow Swede Hedman, has long played a safe and steady game in Vancouver. He could see more power play time in Tampa Bay, but Ohlund's production is still likely to only provide value in deep leagues.

Same goes for Andrej Meszaros, who stumbled to a 16-point season after signing a lucrative contract with the Lightning. Meszaros put up 110 points in his first three seasons with Ottawa, so he has to be better than he was last year.

Tampa Bay's goaltending is in good hands, now that Mike Smith has recovered from the concussion that sidelined him last season. Smith was solid in his first season as a starter and should be even better this year after the Lightning made several moves to improve the quality of their defence.

Backing up Smith, Antero Niittymaki is a strong second-stringer, who is talented enough to handle a starter's workload for at least a little, so long as he can stay healthy.

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