Standout sophomore Steven Stamkos scored early and scored often thanks to his gifted playmaking linemate Martin St. Louis. The 19-year-old center pushed Vincent Lecavalier to a second line role with his dynamic goal scoring and energy. Both St. Louis and Stamkos finished in the top tier of point producers with 94 and 95 points, respectively.
Ryan Malone and Steve Downie alternated between their left wing all season, as both played a physical role while potting over 20 goals. On the other end, Lecavalier struggled to find his rhythm for most of the season playing with a supporting cast of Alex Tanguay, Brandon Bochenski, Teddy Purcell and even defenseman Kurtis Foster.
With a new owner, GM and coach, expect the new regime to trade away some of these players and expect more from Lecavalier (or trade him too). The last couple of weeks have been exciting in Tampa Bay and will only continue to get more so as we approach the draft and free agency.
The aforementioned Foster finished the season as the team’s top scoring defenseman by a large margin. His 42 points were 20 more than second leading defenseman Victor Hedman but a good portion of his points came on the powerplay or on the wing of Lecavalier.
For the most part, the Tampa defense disappointed. Andrej Meszaros failed to bounce back from a terrible innaugural campaign while Matthias Ohlund could not even slide one goal across the line for the first time in his career. Those two pieces, who were the main acquisitions to the blue line the past two offseasons, will need to improve and take over larger roles for the team to be successful.
Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby, David Hale and Matt Walker filled out the bottom pairing adequately although none remotely resemble a scoring threat.
Antero Niittymaki re-emerged as a NHL goaltender with a great start to the season before reverting back to his inconsistent ways. In his first 12 games, he posted a GAA under 2.22 helping the Lightning to a decent start. Incumbent netminder Mike Smith faltered when handed the reigns but eventually would reclaim his spot as the starter. Neither goalie proved themselves consistent enough for a starting role which makes the team need a legitimate NHL starter. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun thinks Steve Yzerman will pursue one of Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price. However, unless they get Halak any goaltender will struggle under this defense.
On the Bench:
Guy Boucher will take over for Rick Tocchet after the latter failed to make the playoffs. The former coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs can now prove himself at the NHL level after turning down Scott Howson and the Columbus Blue Jackets less than a week ago. It remains to be seen what style he will implement on his roster but his background says he likes to play offense and can get the most out of his players.
The Bottom Line:
This season showed a step forward in player development but not making the playoffs was definitely a step back. A full on house cleaning with Yzerman at the helm will improve the team as the team likely will get younger and stronger around their valuable assets. It will be interesting to see if the team dives right into the UFA market or decides to improve from within.
|Number 30||Edmonton Oilers|
|Number 29||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Number 28||Florida Panthers|
|Number 27||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|Number 26||New York Islanders|
|Number 25||Tampa Bay Lightning|