Tampa Bay Lightning
After last season the most important thing for Tampa Bay Lightning will be securing a division title and a top three seed in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning had one of the best seasons in franchise history but came up one game short of appearing in the Stanley Cup Finals. That loss came on the road at the hand of the eventual champion Boston Bruins by a score of 1-0. Head coach Guy Boucher couldn’t have had a better start to his coaching career, and he’s set the bar high for himself from here on out. Boucher looked extremely comfortable behind the Lightning bench, and seems to have the respect of his players.
General manager Steve Yzerman resolved the team’s biggest offseason question by re-signing center Steven Stamkos to a five year deal. Stamkos has scored 95 and 91 points in his last two seasons respectively, only the second and third of his NHL career. The 21 year-old isn’t even anywhere near his prime, and he’s already arguably the best pure goal scorer in the game. As long as Stamkos is in Tampa, the Lightning will be a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.
As mentioned earlier, it is imperative for the Lightning to find a way to win the Southeast Division this season. Last year they were in the lead for much of the early part of the season, however Washington’s impressive run late in the year led them to a second place finish and fifth overall seed in the playoffs. Ther season came down to playing a Game 7 on the road in the Eastern Conferences, a fate that could possibly have been avoided if the Lightning had won the division.
Gone are Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim, two of Tampa Bay’s most important playoff contributors. Returning will be veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who turned out to be one of the best pickups for any team during the season last year. Backup goaltender Mike Smith is also gone, and Mathieu Garon was signed to assist Roloson with his duties this year. Yzerman will be hoping that one of his forward acquisitions of Taylor Pyatt, Ryan Shannon, or Trevor Smith can fill the void left by Bergenheim.
There’s no question the Lightning have the top end talent to return to the Eastern Conference Finals this season. With Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Stamkos in the lineup the offense is one of the most dangerous of any in the league. If Roloson can defy age and keep his play consistent over the course of an 82 game schedule the Lightning have as good a chance as any team in the East. Where the Lightning need to start is within their own division and showing the Washington Capitals that things are going to change in the Southeast Division.