Season Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay overcame injuries, and the loss of one of its most iconic players, last season to finish 3rd in the East and return to the play-offs after a two year absence.
With superstar sniper Steven Stamkos and netminder Ben Bishop healthy again, Jon Cooper’s side have every chance at building on that success this season.
Despite missing more than half the season with a broken leg, 24-year old Stamkos still scored 25 goals and 40 points last term. The Ontario native is one of the most lethal finishers in hockey, but must now assume an even larger share of leadership responsibility, following Martin St. Louis’ exit.
The veteran winger was controversially traded to the Rangers last season, with former blueshirts Captain Ryan Callahan joining the Bolts as part of the deal.
The feisty winger had 6 goals and 11 points in 20 games with the Lightning, and was signed to a 6-year, $38.5m extension this summer – but his lack of production in the post season, as Tampa were swept by Montreal in the first round, was a little concerning.
Winger Ondrej Palat was sensational in his first full season with the club, registering 23 goals and 56 points to earn a Calder Trophy nomination, while Valtteri Filppula finished with a career high 25 goals.
24-year old Tyler Johnson also impressed in his rookie year, passing 20 goals and hitting the 50 point marker. With Alex Killorn also scoring at 0.5 points per game, it gives the Bolts strength at centre heading in to the new year.
35-year old Brendan Morrow arrives on a one year contract, with Brian Boyle adding some grit to the clubs bottom six after signing a 3-year deal – but it is young winger Jonathan Drouin who will undoubtedly find the spotlight on him this season.
The former Halifax Moosheads forward will miss the start of the season, but much is expected of him after being selected 3rd overall in 2013.
At The Back
Last season proved to be a break out year for Victor Hedman, who finished fourth in team scoring with 55 points and became a dominant force on the Tampa Bay blue line.
With the smooth skating Matt Carle, veteran Eric Brewer and big hitting Radko Gudas, it gives the Lightning a defensive unit which could be considered greater than the sum of its parts.
Adding Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman only further strengthens the clubs back line, boosting the teams power play along the way.
Between The Pipes
Ben Bishop was sensational for the majority of last season, but a wrist injury clearly affected him down the stretch and during the play-off loss to Montreal.
Off season surgery should have the giant puck stopper ready to go, with the Denver native out to prove he is a legitimate NHL starter for the club.
Veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov comes in to backup Bishop, after three seasons with the Islanders, but it is the progress of prospects Kristers Gudlevskis and Andrei Vasilevskiy that will be most closely monitored this year.
Behind The Bench
After a tremendous effort last season, Jon Cooper might already be seen as a contender for the Jack Adams.
With an improved blue line, a healthy Stamkos and a deceptive amount of depth at forward, Cooper has a roster well placed to make significant steps forward over the coming years.
Tactically astute, if Cooper can ensure sophomores like Palat continue their progress then he might be able to guide Tampa on a surprise run this spring.
Biggest Addition – Jonathan Drouin
After two dominant years in the QMJHL, Drouin will finally get his chance to shine in the NHL this season.
With former Halifax team mate Nathan MacKinnon adapting to life in the league so well with Colorado, Drouin will be confident he can make a similar impact with the Lightning this year.
Missing the first month of the season with a thumb injury is not ideal; but if the 19-year old can fight his way back to the clubs top 6, he’ll be a favourite to win the Calder Trophy this year.
Biggest Loss – Martin St. Louis
Through highs and lows, the diminutive forward gave nothing less than his best for the Bolts every single night.
In 13 seasons with the club, St. Louis won a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy and two scoring titles – and leaves some mighty big shoes to fill .
Key Man – Ben Bishop
Inspirational in Tampa’s rise back to the top, the 6’7″ netminder needs to maintain the standards he set last season if the organisation is to compete for a Stanley Cup.
Bishop has the size and the tools to become one of the leagues top stoppers, but must prove he can play to a consistently high level if he is to be considered an elite netminder.
This Seasons Chances…
Despite the loss of St. Louis, Tampa has improved its roster in the broad sense.
Callahan, Stralman and Boyle are proven players in their given roles, while Morrow and Nabokov bring vast experience to the table.
With a young core, led by Stamkos, there is still time for this club to mature under GM Steve Yzerman and Cooper’s leadership, and continued improvement like we saw last term could soon put the club on the path to success again.
Posted on October 6, 2014, in Hockey, NHL, Season Previews 2014, Tampa Bay Lightning and tagged Ben Bishop, NHL, Season Preview, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.