2011-12 NHL Season Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Key Offseason Losses: Simon Gagne, Mike Smith, Sean Bergenheim

Key Offseason Additions: Mathieu Garon, Bruno Gervais, Matt Gilroy

Last Season Ranking: 5th in the East

Offense: While a few new faces will grace the roster of the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, the core of the team stays intact – a positive for a team that finished 7th in goals scored per game last season.

Martin St. Louis, Steve Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier again form the foundation of the offense. At 36, St. Louis shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Stamkos seemed to struggle with consistency in the second half last season, although 45 goals and 91 points is hardly anything to complain about. Look for these two to tear it up again this season as Stamkos looks to regain his crown as league scoring leader.

Injuries limited Lecavalier to only 65 games last season, but when he’s on the ice he is an effective player scoring 54 points. However, he really came alive in the playoffs with 19 points in 18 games. Seventy points seems like the norm for Lecavalier in a healthy season, but falling just shy of a Stanley Cup Finals berth could light the fire and push Lecavalier back to 80-90 points.

Although the team lost 17 goals and 40 points with the departure of Simon Gagne, they should be able to overcome his departure and make up that scoring elsewhere. Players such as Ryan Malone and Steve Downie will help fill the void if they stay healthy, and Teddy Purcell proved last season he is ready for more responsibilities and quality minutes. A hefty new contract doesn’t necessarily mean production, however, and Purcell will need to prove that he belongs in the top six.

Expect Tampa Bay to post lots of goals this season and be an offensive force again.

Defense: While getting sniper Steve Stamkos under contract was a priority for Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, he failed to give his blue line a significant boost through trade or free agency. Perhaps that’s because 60 percent of the team’s blue line will be free agents of some sorts next summer.

Victor Hedman continues to grow with each season. Expect a breakout year for Hedman as he enters a contract year and needs to prove that he is a franchise blue liner. Along with Hedman, expect Eric Brewer, Mattius Ohlund and Pavel Kubina to shoulder most of the load.

Tampa Bay finished 22nd in the league in goals allowed per game while only 10 players on the roster finished positive plus/minus ratings. Even then, no player finished better than plus-8. The Lightning are a team that help overcome their defensive deficiencies with strong offense. Expect more of the same this season with no real changes made to the blue line in the offseason.

Goaltending: One problem plaguing the team is recent years has been inconsistent goaltending. That changed last season when they traded for veteran Dwayne Roloson, who made an immediate impact and helped give the team confidence in net. This season, the question is whether lightning can strike twice for the 41-year-old goaltender?

Roloson doesn’t need to be spectacular every night, but he needs to be consistent and give the team a chance to win every time he starts.

The team also let loose backup Mike Smith in favor of veteran Mathieu Garon. Smith struggled with consistency during his years in Tampa and, if nothing else, the Roloson/Garon tandem should provide a more stable net presence for the Lightning than they have had in years.

HWB Playoff Prediction: Playoff bound.

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