Published September 29, 2011
| Sports Network
To say the first season of Steve Yzerman's tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning was a success would be a colossal understatement.
Yzerman, who had a Hall of Fame career as a centerman in Detroit, took over as Tampa Bay's GM in May of 2010 and has been integral in remaking the franchise in his own image.
The most important move may have been picking Guy Boucher as a head coach. Under the first-year bench boss, the Lightning ended a three-year postseason drought and wound up just one win away from making it to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Lightning were a surprise playoff team in 2010-11, but they won't be able to sneak up on anybody this season. Then again, when your offensive firepower is supplied by the likes of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, the element of surprise can be overrated.
FORWARDS - St. Louis and Lecavalier helped Tampa Bay win its only Stanley Cup in 2004, and while both are still phenomenal players the 21-year-old Stamkos has taken over as the club's most dangerous weapon.
The first overall pick of the 2008 draft, Stamkos has turned in an incredible first three seasons as an NHLer, compiling 100 goals and 97 assists in his first 124 games.
After sharing the Rocket Richard Trophy with Sidney Crosby as the league's top goal-scorers in 2009-10, Stamkos finished second in the NHL last year with 45 goals. His 91 points were fifth in the league and second on the team to St. Louis.
Stamkos stayed in the headlines well into the summer, thanks to a battle with the front office over a new contract. In the end, the sides agreed to a five- year, $37.5 million contract that will keep Stamkos in Tampa until at least 2015-16.
St. Louis had already won a Hart Trophy before Stamkos was even in juniors, but there's no doubt that playing on a line with the young centerman has helped the veteran right winger get some of his swagger back. In fact, St. Louis has posted back-to-back seasons of 90-plus points for the first time in his career over the past two years.
Last year, St. Louis finished second in the NHL with 99 points -- just three less of his personal best set in 2006-07. His 68 assists in 2010-11 was the highest total of his career and St. Louis kept on producing in the postseason, notching 10 goals and 10 helpers in 18 playoff games.
While St. Louis was enjoying a banner year, the Bolts' top left winger, Ryan Malone, suffered through an injury-plagued season. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Malone has the size to be a premier power forward, but he sat out a big chunk of 2010-11 with an abdominal injury and wound up with just 14 goals and 24 assists in 54 games.
The Lightning count on Malone to score the tough goals in front of the net, and with four seasons left on a seven-year, $31.5 million contract, the Bolts hope he can stay on the ice this year.
Lecavalier doesn't put up numbers like he once did, but, at 31, the No. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft has become a solid captain and leader. Along with Stamkos, he also gives Tampa Bay one of the best 1-2 centermen punches in the league.
Lecavalier finished with 25 goals and 54 points in 65 games last year and got better as the season wore on. He had 22 goals and 21 assists over the final 47 games of the regular season and added 19 points (6g, 13a) in 18 postseason contests.
Nate Thompson and Teddy Purcell are penciled in as the wingers on the second line. Purcell had a career year in 2010-11, recording 17 of his 28 career goals and 51 of his 85 lifetime points over 81 games. He kept it going in the playoffs as well, notching 17 points (6g, 11a) in 18 contests.
Thompson also set career bests with 10 goals and 15 assists last season.
Forwards Ryan Shannon, who was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, and Steve Downie could also push for playing time on the second line. Shannon had 11 goals and 16 assists in 79 games with Ottawa last year, while Downie managed to compile 10 goals, 22 helpers and 171 penalty minutes in just 57 games.
Downie, who excels at getting under the skin of opposing players, also added two goals and 12 assists in the playoffs.
Speedy centerman Dominic Moore is in the final season of a two-year deal with Tampa. The 31-year-old journeyman is coming off a career-best 18 goals in 77 games.
Tampa Bay's biggest problem in 2010-11 was its even-strength play, but the club did have the sixth-best power-play success rate in the NHL.
All told, with the loss of secondary scorers Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim to free agency this summer, the Lightning's offense may be just a tad worse than last year when they finished eighth in the league with 2.94 goals per game.
DEFENSE - Boucher's 1-3-1 system has been called a variation of the neutral- zone trap, but rather than making the game boring, the strategy has resulted in some exciting odd-man rushes for the Bolts.
The Lightning's defense looked pretty bad early last season, but the arrival of goaltender Dwayne Roloson via a midseason trade helped change Tampa's defensive reputation a bit.
In addition to Roloson, the Bolts also acquired veteran defenseman Eric Brewer in a trade with St. Louis last February. Brewer had just two points in 22 regular season games with Tampa, but things started to click in the playoffs, when he recorded one goal and six assists. The 32-year-old Canadian figures to play the point on the power-play this year and could also be key in the development of youngster Victor Hedman.
Hedman, 20, was the second overall pick of the 2009 draft and projects as the club's No. 1 defenseman of the future. The big Swede had 26 points (3g, 23a) in 79 games as an NHL sophomore last year and also contributed six assists to the playoff effort. He was also second to Brewer among Tampa defenseman in terms of ice time per game and Hedman will likely see his 21 minutes a night increase in 2011-12.
The second pairing of Pavel Kubina and Mattias Ohlund offers a veteran presence, although, at 34 and 35, respectively, the duo is beginning to show the signs of age. Ohlund had just five assists in 72 games last year and was a minus-seven for the season. The 34-year-old Kubina had 23 points (4g, 19a) in 79 games, marking his lowest point total since he had 21 points in 61 games with Toronto in 2006-07.
Another veteran, Brett Clark, had a terrific season for the Bolts, leading the club's blueliners with nine goals and 31 points in 82 games last season.
Marc-Andre Bergeron is back after a 23-game stint with the Lightning last year. Bergeron, who was signed in January, had eight points (2g, 6a) in his brief run with the Lightning, but also somehow managed to record a minus-10 rating in that span.
GOALTENDING - Roloson played a huge part in getting the Lightning to the conference finals last spring, but even he could not help Tampa get past the eventual Stanley Cup champion Bruins.
Although he'll turn 42 years of age in October, the Lightning are expecting big things from Roloson in 2011-12. He began last year with the dismal New York Islanders, but was dealt to Tampa Bay on New Year's Day. Roloson appeared in 34 games for the Lightning during the regular season and solidified the goaltending position after both Mike Smith and Dan Ellis had failed to do so.
Roloson was 18-12-4 with a .912 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average for the Lightning down the stretch and played even better in the playoffs. He compiled a 10-6 mark to go with a 2.51 GAA and .924 save percentage in 17 postseason games.
The Lightning brought in veteran netminder Mathieu Garon on a two-year deal this summer to serve as Roloson's backup. The 33-year-old spent last year with Columbus and went 10-14-6 with a 2.27 GAA in 36 games (29 starts) with the Blue Jackets.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - The Lightning will challenge Washington for the Southeast Division title again this season, but it will be a tough task to deny the Caps their fifth straight division crown. But, Tampa does have Washington beat in one area, having already been to the conference finals with Stamkos while the Capitals have yet to get past the second round in the Alex Ovechkin era. Expect the Lightning to get back to the playoffs in 2011-12 and be a headache to play against once they get there.