The Tampa Bay Lightning are coming off a tumultuous and forgettable 2012-13 season, finishing 18-26-4 for a grand total of 40 points, earning them the title of third worst NHL team. All that after topping the Eastern Conference with a 6-1-0 record from January 19 until February 2.
Unfortunately, their early season success came via a well-rested offense. One capable of lighting the lamp early and often. But as things went along this team experienced numerous injuries to key players, and had to respond to the adversity that comes with losing games. To say they failed at both would be an understatement, especially considering that non-responsiveness likely played a huge role in GM Steve Yzerman‘s decision to fire Guy Boucher immediately following a March 23 loss to the Ottawa Senators.
Another key to last season’s demise was horrible defense, coupled with shaky goaltending. Even with the league’s third best offense, which averaged 3.06 goals per game, they couldn’t always find a way to overcome their woes along the back end. Those problems included giving up the same amount of goals scored on average.
While the Lightning didn’t directly address defense through free agency or the draft, it is believed that the additions of Mark Barberio and hard-hitting defenseman Radko Gudas will help shore things up. Both have more than paid their dues at the AHL level, appearing in the last two Calder Cup finals and winning it all two seasons ago.
In net, the Lightning have Ben Bishop, whom they acquired from the Senators at last season’s trade deadline, and Anders Lindback. Neither set the world on fire down the stretch, but they also had very little help from their teammates. That’s what happens when a team falls from grace the way these Bolts did in 2012-13 though.
Offensively, this team is stacked with talent. And from the looks of things, there’s more coming. Everyone knows what a threat Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis pose whenever they step on the ice, but they aren’t the only ones capable of burning an opposing netminder. Teddy Purcell looks to bounce back from a subpar season, where he notched just 11 goals and put up a minus-1 rating. That marked his lowest total since being traded to the Bolts during the 2009-10 season.
However, the Lightning will miss former captain Vincent Lecavalier, who was bought out this past offseason. When healthy, he had the potential to score in bunches. There’s also the little fact that he’s one of the best in the game when it comes to taking and winning faceoffs. Even so, it looks like offseason acquisition Valtteri Filppula could be an upgrade, as he’s pretty good in his own zone and can win draws. He’s not the hard-nosed, gritty goal scorer Lecavalier was during his time wearing Bolt blue, but there’s no doubt he can put up solid numbers.
Not to be forgotten, the Lightning boast a strong group of prospects up front. Guys like last season’s AHL MVP Tyler Johnson, 2013 Calder Cup playoff points leader Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik and Brett Connolly. Oh, and let’s not forget this summer’s third overall draft pick, Jonathan Drouin. All have been impressive thus far during training camp, leaving head coach Jon Cooper with the difficult task of deciding who will be part of the Bolts opening day roster.
Taking everything into account, 2013-14′ should be better for the Lightning under Cooper. I believe this team will finish 42-35-5, behind the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and probably Senators in their new division if they play up to their talent level and no serious injuries occur.