If you don’t know about the Tampa Bay Lightning’s free agent moves, you’re not a hockey fan. It’s no stretch to say that they’ll possibly set a record for biggest improvement in points in one year.
I’ve already made an initial post about the Lightning, considering they have a line’s worth of Penguins from last year slated to start on southern ice. I’m looking for a vast improvement, but even a vast improvement might not make the playoffs.
Barry Melrose is back as a head coach, and will be highly scrutinized if he is unable to lead this team to the playoffs. Ultimately, defense will decide their fate.
267 goals allowed slotted Tampa Bay second in the NHL, just behind the equally problematic defense of the Atlanta Thrashers.
A lot like the Thrashers, most defensemen last season were pitiful when it came to the plus/minus department. Accordingly, only Mike Lundin had a positive rating – plus–3.
Tampa didn’t lose much of anything in free agency, but they didn’t gain much either. The additions of Matthew Carle, Ty Wishart and Andrew Hutchinson don’t add much experience. Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich were sent to San Jose in order to acquire Carle and Wishart.
The unit will have a lot of improving to do, but the ability of the offense to possess the puck more likely will aid the blue liners.
Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis have combined as one of the top scoring duos in the NHL in recent memory.
Now add Ryan Malone, and this top line is scary. Malone has the chance to do even more offensively than he did playing with Petr Sykora and Evgeni Malkin last season, and is the power forward that Lecavalier and St. Louis have needed.
On the second line, possibly add Radim Vrbata to a Jeff Halpern and Jussi Jokinen pairing and you have two legitimate scoring lines.
It’s hard not to reference the Penguins when writing about a team who has rebuilt itself and could see a huge jump in the standings. By looking at the top two lines, it reminds me of the Penguins because Ray Shero and Michel Therrien have assembled and paired such effective scoring lines that opponents struggle to effectively defend.
Tampa Bay looks like it will have this same luxury. Steve Stamkos is going to fit in somewhere in this lineup, along with Brian Rolston, so the the potential is seemingly endless.
The goaltending position is also one of question. None were too effective lat season, and the signing of Olaf Kolzig isn’t helping things that much.
Mike Smith will be the likely starter, finishing last year with a 2.59 GAA and a .901 SV%. His numbers suffered after being traded to the Bolts from Dallas. In 13 games for Tampa Bay, Smith went 3-10 and posted a 2.79 GAA.
Olaf Kolzig and Karri Ramo will battle for the backup spot. Kolzig posted a 2.91 GAA and a .892 SV% while Ramo played to a 3.03 GAA and .899 SV%.
The Lightning are obviously improved. The blue line worries me though.
The offense will be good enough for probably 10 more wins by itself. However, these are not the Detroit Red Wings, so puck control won’t be able to rectify the defensive problem.
Hopefully, for you ‘Bolt fans, there will be chemistry among the defensemen considering most played together last season.
Also, despite the last place finish, Tampa Bay had the fifth ranked power play in the NHL at 19.3%. That will likely only improve with the added talent on offense. Honestly, it’s scary to think how good that unit can be. Think Lecavalier, St. Louis, Vrbata, Malone and Filip Kuba as the first power play line. It will turn some heads.
Tomorrow I’ll reveal my standings, as well as my projected point totals for each team and why I see it that way. In the meantime, let me know what you think. As always, this is all just my take on things. In no way do I think that I’m 100% right, or wrong for that matter.
I didn’t go too in-depth with this one considering I already previewed them early in July. I’ll leave you with their future: