The upcoming season for the Tampa Bay Lightning will have a new look, with the organization icing a team minus Vincent Lecavalier for the first time in 14 years. They will also have a full season under head coach Jon Cooper, who took over coaching duties after the dismissal of Guy Boucher last March. However, the real story this season may end up becoming the job security for team general manager Steve Yzerman.
Since taking over as GM in 2010, Yzerman has arguably done little to improve the team outside of re-signing Martin St. Louis. For many seasons, the team’s two biggest weaknesses have been defense and goaltending. While they did finish 7th in the league in goals allowed per game in 2010-11, they finished dead last in the league in 2011-12 with an average of 3.39 per game, and followed up last season finishing 26th with a 3.06 average. The fact that they finished 27th in the league in 2009-10 makes their 7th place finish look like an all-out fluke. Sure, Dwayne Roloson was a gem in the rough for a season, but the Dan Ellis experiment failed miserably, Anders Lindback wasn’t the steal they were hoping for, and they traded promising forward Cory Conachar—who finished last season with 24 points in 35 games—for Ben Bishop.
The team shouldn’t miss Conachar much if Jonathan Drouin, who was selected 3rd overall in this summer’s draft by Tampa Bay, lives up to expectations. There’s some chatter that Drouin may even see time on the top line with Steven Stamkos and St. Louis.
However, the only real move of note that Yzerman made this summer was signing former Detroit Red Wings center Valtteri Filppula to a five-year contract worth $5 million a season. He essentially traded in Lecavalier, who has scored at a pace of .83 points per game over the last five seasons, for Filppula, who has scored at a pace of .60 points per game over the same timeframe. Filppula could thrive in Tampa Bay, and Yzerman was familiar with his play from his time with the Red Wings so he knows what he’s getting, but on paper it looks like a significant downgrade.
Outside of the additions of Filppula and Drouin, the offense will look very similar. Stamkos was on pace last season for a 97-point season, and will look to top 100 for the first time in his career. Martin St. Louis, despite being 38, shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. In fact, he won the Art Ross trophy last year as the league’s leading scorer. Together, these two create one of the most dynamic duos in hockey.
In net, Bishop and Lindback will likely duke it out for the starting role, and Yzerman is certainly hoping that someone emerges as a true number one goalie because he’s taken a lot of liberties in this area during his tenure, and making another goalie move this season won’t look great on his resume.
Defenseman Victor Hedman continues to improve each season, and Matt Carle is able to provide some offense from the blue line as well. But the Lightning will largely ice the same defensive unit they had last season, which wasn’t very good, but hopefully will see some improvement under the new coach.
The Lightning have many of the right pieces in place, but many of the team’s significant needs have not been addressed again. And with the team now in a division with Boston, Detroit, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, it’s going to be a long road to the playoffs for this Lightning team.
And if they don’t make it, Steve Yzerman could be out the door in the next round of personnel changes.