Friday, September 9, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season was all about change in Tampa, and it sure proved to pay dividends, immediately. Steve Yzerman showed his chops as a talent evaluator and great overall GM, and Guy Boucher proved he may be one of the best up-and-coming coaches in hockey. However, they still fell one game short of the Stanley Cup Finals. Will they be heading forwards, or backwards this time around?

Strengths: When you think of the Lightning, what do you think of? Most around hockey would say offense, and the Bolts have that in spades. Of course, it all starts, and ends, with Steven Stamkos, who may be the league's most dynamic scoring threat. Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier are two Tampa mainstays, who will play big roles in the offense again. The depth that took them as far as they went last year is still there in spots, with guys like Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone, and Dominic Moore, as well as some newcomers in Tom Pyatt and Ryan Shannon. Defensively, there is a good mix of depth and youth with Victor Hedman leading the charge. He is still young and learning, but he will become one of the better defenders in this league very soon. He has some good help on the blue line with him, with guys like Marc Andre-Bergeron, Eric Brewer, and Pavel Kubina helping him out.

Weaknesses: Goaltending seemed to be an up and down area for them last season. When Dwayne Roloson struggled, Mike Smith came in and played admirably, but he went off to Phoenix, so they brought in Mathieu Garon to help with depth. The question is, can a 42 year old goaltender keep replicating his previous successes, or will goaltending become a serious problem again? There were also some key free agent losses this year such as Sean Bergenheim and Simon Gagne that could impact the scoring depth as well. There are also some issues with defensive depth, too.

Any Help Coming? Brett Connolly is an amazing offensive center prospect who has pure scoring talent and can really open up this amazing offense even more, however he will have to adapt to the more physical NHL game first. RW Carter Ashton is a good two way winger prospect, and G Cedrick Desjardins, who played well in spot duty last season.

Outlook: The Lightning may not replicate last season's successes, but they should have the ability to make the postseason and challenge in the east. Every game they are in may end up 4-3 or 5-4, but they should be able to keep up with the questions between the pipes and the suspect defense. The question is, for how long?

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