TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
2008-09: 24-40-18 (14th in the East – Out of Playoffs)
Pre-season TSN.ca Power Ranking: 27
General Manager: Brian Lawton (2nd Season)
Head Coach: Rick Tocchet (2nd Season)
What They Did In The Off-season:
Give the Lightning credit, they may be a lot of things, but they are never boring. This off-season, the team reportedly flirted with the notion of trading superstar Vincent Lecavalier. Despite the pleas of Canadiens fans, Vinnie remains a Bolt. The team made a big move to solidify their defence corps for the next decade by drafting Swede Victor Hedman second overall. The Lightning also made a splash in the free agent pool by signing fellow Swede Mattias Ohlund to a seven-year deal to mentor Hedman. The Bolts then added free agent defencemen Kurtis Foster and Matt Walker and netminder Antero Niittymaki. Then they returned free agent bust Radim Vrbata to the Coyotes for David Hale. Veteran Gary Roberts announced his retirement, and the team cleared more space by buying out Vaclav Prospal. Evgeny Artyukin was then sent to the Ducks for Drew Miller. The Bolts rounded out their off-season overhaul by bringing in Alex Tanguay to potentially form the new "French Connection" line with Vincent Lecavalier and Matin St. Louis.
Biggest Issue Facing the Team:
Virtually everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Lightning last season. All their big free agent signings turned out to be busts. Their "Seen Stamkos" campaign gained a comical tone when the rookie struggled in the early going under then coach Barry Melrose and saw his already minimal minutes diminish significantly. Melrose was replaced by Tocchet early in the season, but the team continued to lose games at a rapid rate. Rumours of a Lecavalier trade continued to hang over the team, culminating in a media frenzy during the All-Star break in Montreal. Despite public announcements by GM Brian Lawton that his superstar was staying put, the rumours persisted right up to the NHL trade deadline. The team then finished the season with a thud by losing their final nine games of the campaign.
As bad as the team was on the ice, the off-ice situation appeared to be worse as co-owner Oren Koules and Len Barrie publicly feuded over the direction of the club. Barrie was forced to provide the NHL with proof of funds to demonstrate that he was able to maintain part ownership of the franchise. While Barrie was able to do so, the League has taken steps to force a resolution of the ownership situation by setting up a process by which one side can buy the other out.
Even if the ownership issues are settled before the season gets underway, it remains to be seen if a stable upper crust will improve the team's fortunes on the ice. It is certainly a situation for Lightning fans to keep their eyes on as it will directly affect future personnel moves.
Player To Watch:
While the team may have been a little premature with their "Seen Stamkos" campaign heading into the season, the Markham, Ontario native gave fans reason to watch his every move as the season progressed. The same player who looked like a little boy lost under Melrose flourished in the second half of the season, finishing the year with a very respectable 23 goals and 23 assists.
Stamkos will be looking for some consistency in his game entering his second full year in the league. Fortunately, he has the confidence of head coach Rick Tocchet heading into the season, a luxury he did not have last year. Should he end up on a line with either Lecavalier or St. Louis, or manage to earn a spot on the number one power play unit, he could see a rapid jump in his offensive production.
Whatever happens, Stamkos will surely be worth seeing this season.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
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.
Read more of Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis of the Lightning, including a look at Tampa Bay's projected depth chart for next season.