Tampa Bay Lightning
2008/2009: 24-40-18 – 66 points (5th in Southeast, 14th in East)
Arrived: Victor Hedman (Draft), Alex Tanguay (MTL), Mattias Ohlund (VAN), Matt Walker (CHI), Antero Nittymaki (PHI), Kurtis Foster (MIN), David Hale (PHX), Drew Miller (ANH)
Departed: Radim Vrbata (PHX), David Koci (COL), Vaclav Prospal (NYR), Evgeny Artyukhin (ANH)
Sorry Habs fans but Vincent Lecavalier is still a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and along with longtime teammate Martin St. Louis, recently acquired Alex Tanguay, and Steven Stamkos who had a great second half of last season, Lecavalier and the Lightning have a scoring punch rivaled only by Washington in the Southeast Division. Not only has the offense improved, Lightning management put most of their effort this season into improving their defense. It started at the draft when the Lightning took Swedish sensation Victor Hedman 2nd overall. The lightning then signed defencemen free agents Mattias Ohlund, Matt Walker, and Kurtis Foster. With these additions and healthy seasons from Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros the blue line in Tampa will be much improved. The Lightning may look to move a defenceman to add some forward depth as they currently have 8 NHL ready defencemen. Barring major injuries look for the Lightning to be knocking on the door of the playoffs at season’s end.
FANTASY WORTHY FORWARDS
Vincent Lecavalier (C) – Vinny is coming off a slow year in which he amassed only 67 points in 77 games. His poor performance could have had something to do with the never ending trade rumours he was involved in all year. The Lightning will be better this year and Vinny should rebound like a shot off Tim Chevaldae’s right pad. A strong bet is to expect 40 goals and 85 points from the 29 year old center. His plus minus of minus 9 should improve as well. Lecavalier is a strong 2nd round pick this season.
Martin St. Louis (RW) – Whether he is playing with Lecavalier or Stamkos, Marty St. Louis will find a way to be around a point per game and score around 30 goals. Despite his stature, St. Louis is one of the toughest players around and has missed only two regular season games since 2002/03. He was plus 4 on a terrible Tampa team last season. Don’t count on him for PIMS (14 last year).
Steven Stamkos (C) – The second half of last season saw 2008’s number 1 pick centering a line between wingers Ryan Malone and Martin St. Louis. The line clicked and really helped Stamkos’ game as he recorded 17 of his 23 goals after the all-star break. Stamkos seems to be comfortable playing alongside St. Louis as the two were linemates for Canada at this years World Championships. This will be the year Stamkos lives up to his draft hype. He will see a drastic increase in icetime from the 15 minutes he averaged over last season. 35 goals and 70 points is not out of reach.
Alex Tanguay (LW) – If the Malone-Stamkos-St. Louis line sticks, and it should, expect Tanguay to start the season playing alongside Lecavalier. Tanguay doesn’t normally score a lot of goals but could be the perfect setup man for Vinny. He missed 32 games last year due to injury but still managed to put up a respectable 41 points in 50 games. With good linemates Tanguay could manage 25 goals and 50 assists, but he will likely be battling for 1st unit powerplay with with youngster Steven Stamkos and net presence Ryan Malone.
Keep an Eye On: Ryan Malone (LW)
DRAFT WORTHY DEFENCEMEN
Paul Ranger – A left shoulder injury that eventually required surgery kept Ranger out of 40 games last season. Ranger has yet to play a full 82 game season in his 4 year career, but if he can stay healthy he will have a chance to quarterback a lethal power-play. 30-35 points is highly likely but 40 plus points is not unrealistic. Ranger should put up around 70 PIMS.
Victor Hedman – As a 17 year old this year’s second overall pick put up 21 point in just 43 games and was an outstanding plus 21 for MoDo of the Swedish Elite League. His 6’6″ frame also picked up 52 PIMS. He is the complete package when it comes to defencemen and he should get plenty of opportunities to play alongside some great talent on the Tampa power-play. 30-35 points and a Calder candidate.
Keep an Eye On: Mattias Ohlund
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Mike Smith – Coming to Tampa from Dallas in the Brad Richards trade, Smith missed the last 32 games of last season with concussion issues. On August 30th Smith reported he has fully recovered from the post concussion symptoms that sidelined him. In what was to be his first full season as a number one keeper, Smith showed signs of brilliance posting an impressive .916 save percentage in 41 appearances. In good health Smith win numbers and stats should improve due to a healthy and revamped blueline. This will be Smith’s first 20 plus win season as an NHL goalie.