The Tampa Bay Lightning were the surprise team of the season last year. While many liked what they did during the offseason last year under new GM Steve Yzerman, and while I thought they’d sneak into the playoffs as the eight seed, they certainly exceeded most people’s expectations. They finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, they aren’t going to sneak up on anybody. What will they do now?
This team is still led by Steven Stamkos, who has become one of the best players in the NHL, and Martin St. Louis, who is getting up there but is still a great player. Last season, they had issues in net early, which is a major reason their goal differential was only plus-7, but adding Dwayne Roloson was huge for them, and they managed to convince him to come back for one more year. Yes, he’s turning 42 in October, but he still managed a .914 save percentage last season. He should be able to get it done for one more year.
The big moves for the Lightning this season were re-signing their own players, led by Stamkos, and in addition to Roloson, they re-signed other late season additions in Eric Brewer and Marc-Andre Bergeron. They also brought in Mathieu Garon just in case Roloson can’t cut it, and also because a 42-year-old goaltender probably needs rest here and there.
Tampa Bay lost playoff surprise Sean Bergenheim as well as Simon Gagne. That certainly hurts the depth of the Lightning’s offense, but they can manage. After all, their top four scorers are all returning. The Lightning also have a few good defenseman, and Victor Hedman is still improving as a player.
Did the Lightning overachieve a bit last season? Yes, both in the regular season and the playoffs, but they are definitely a good team, and I feel confident that they will make the playoffs. I don’t know if I quite consider them a lock, but if not, they are the team I am most confident in of the non-locks. I expect Stamkos to score 50 goals once more, and St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier should be good as usual as well. I don’t see the Lightning as a Cup contender, but they showed last year they have what it takes to pull off some upsets. They could do that again.
Last team up: Florida Panthers
Next team up: Washington Capitals