Will Drouin's rise highlight the post-Vinny era in Tampa?
Vincent Lecavalier, Brendan Mikkelson, Benoit Pouliot, J.T. Wyman.
Last year: Coming off a down year in 2011-12, the Lightning figured, or at least hoped, they were a goalie away from returning to contender status in the Eastern Conference.
That may have been the case, but Anders Lindback wasn’t the answer last season. Tampa traded for the 25-year-old netminder, but he didn't live up to immediate expectations as the Lightning finished the year a disappointing 18-26-4 - second last in the conference.
A late-season ankle injury for Lindback opened the door for Tampa’s next possible answer to the goalie conundrum in Ben Bishop.
Yzerman sent promising rookie Cory Conacher to the Ottawa Senators for Bishop and then signed him to a two-year extension after seeing what he could do. The 26-year-old had a .917 save percentage and 2.99 goals against average in Tampa last season.
The team’s goaltending and defence was once again a big reason for a disappointing season in Tampa. The team was 26th in the league in goals against and played a role in Guy Boucher losing his job.
This Year: For the first time in 14 seasons, and in the 33-year-old centre’s entire career, Vincent Lecavalier won’t be with the Lightning come opening night. In what Yzerman described as a tough decision, the Lightning moved on from their captain via the compliance buyout.
The move was part of Tampa’s facelift for the upcoming season; management deeming the money they were paying Lecavalier could be better spent elsewhere. Along with the move from Boucher to Jon Cooper, it suggests Yzerman thinks the team could need more than just a goalie to right the ship.
The new movement will start behind the bench. Cooper, the head coach of Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate the past three seasons, was named Boucher’s replacement late last season, and will enter this year firmly in control as head coach. Cooper’s AHL resume is impressive, and includes both a Calder Cup and Coach of the Year win.
The 46-year-old will bring his fast, physical brand of hockey to Tampa full-time for next season. Players say he’s big on stressing the importance of playing as a team; he’ll be tasked with improving the team’s defensive numbers while at the same time upholding their strong offensive play.
While he’ll be looking for a new captain, Cooper will have third-overall draft pick Jonathan Drouin and prudent free agent signing Valtteri Filppula to help replace Lecavalier’s production. The two players should slide in to the top six and help Tampa remain an offensive force.
The team will have a similar look on defence, with the hope Victor Hedman continues his development, while Bishop is at least penciled in as the starter in net ahead of training camp.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Lightning's performance after a shortened season?
The Lightning have a predominately young roster so the biggest effects of once again playing a full 82 could be on the team’s netminders.
In theory, Tampa has two starting-calibre goalies, a benefit in the short season with several back-to-back games.
But with neither Bishop nor Lindback established as a premier No. 1, with a full season the Lightning will have plenty of time to figure out if either can grow into that role. At the very least they can go with the “hot hand” at different points of the season.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Lightning make to get themselves back in cap shape?
The biggest move of the Lightning’s off-season was, of course, the compliance buyout of former captain Lecavalier. Tampa Bay got out of the final seven years of Lecavalier’s 11-year, $85 million deal and wiped his $7.73 million salary off their books for the 2013-14 season and beyond.
A large chunk of Lecavalier’s money was then given to Filppula, the former Detroit Red Wings forward. Filppula, 29, was signed to a five-year, $25 million contract. While he may not totally make up for Lecavalier’s production, the Finish native signed for a lesser term and at a cheaper rate.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Lightning after realignment.
If the Lightning have a rivalry, it would be with the state-sharing Florida Panthers, and that isn’t lost in the realignment. But that’s the only Southeast Division opponent to join Tampa Bay in the new Atlantic Division.
Owners will be happy big draws like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings now share the division, meaning there should be a few more full buildings in Tampa this season.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Ben Bishop, G - When Anders Lindback faltered last season, Bishop was ultimately acquired from Ottawa and he played well enough (.917 save percentage in nine games with the Lightning) to expect that he is in the driver's seat for the starter's job going into 2013-2014.
At the same time, he's a 26-year-old who has played 45 career NHL games, will be playing behind a Lightning defence that isn't necessarily the league's strongest and Tampa Bay's schedule likely gets more difficult leaving the safe confines of the Southeast Division. If he manages to start 50-55 games, though, Bishop ought to get decent offensive support so, if he plays well (at least as well as his .913 career save percentage), a decent number of wins should follow.
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Pressing Question: Do the Lightning have a goalie that can help their high-powered offence back into the playoffs?
Tampa Bay has had some bad luck in net the past few years. They were hoping the acquisition of Lindback would put an end to all of that, but their third-worst record in the league suggests otherwise.
Some of that of course has to do with a still maturing defence, but a goalie that can be counted on would go a long way for a team that can score almost at will.
When it looked like Lindback wasn’t the second coming of Miikka Kiprusoff, the Lightning made another move, giving up more assets to acquire Bishop from the Senators.
Both Lindback and Bishop are young and have shown promise in their brief careers. There will be a goalie battle in camp between the two – Bishop should enter with a slight lead – and the team will pin their defensive hopes on the winner.
Can Bishop, he of a career .913 save percentage and 2.67 GAA, or Lindback (.909 save percentage and 2.68 GAA) do enough in net to get the Lightning and their dynamic offence back into the playoffs?
- Tampa Bay Lightning Preview by Ben Fisher, TSN.ca