It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
Lightning really did strike more than twice for Tampa Bay last season. Under new ownership, with a new head coach and new general manager, the culture of the franchise was changed and it resulted in their most successful season since they won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04.
Owner Jeff Vinik installed rookie GM Steve Yzerman, who was groomed in Detroit. Yzerman hired rookie head coach Guy Boucher, who had rejected an offer from Columbus Blue Jackets after leading the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL to a 51-17-11 record. Unlike in constructing a house, the foundation for a solid hockey organization is built from the top down and in two hires, the Lightning laid the groundwork for long-term success.
Tampa was expected to be improved heading into last season, but not many figured them to come within one victory of heading back to the Cup Final. But that's what they did pushing the eventual champion Boston Bruins to Game 7, but falling 1-0.
It was the end to a season that saw the Tampa Bay Lightning improve by 23 points and move up seven spots in the Eastern Conference from 2009-10. Their young superstar, Steven Stamkos, flirted with 50 goals-in-50 games early in the season; their franchise face, Vincent Lecavalier, looked rejuvenated and back to his old self; and their gritty vet, Martin St. Louis, finished second in the NHL in scoring with 99 points, earning a Hart Trophy nomination and winning his second consecutive Lady Byng Trophy.
A lot went right for Tampa last season and this season there won't be any surprises. Can they recapture the magic once again?
Yzerman focused his summer on re-signing key cogs from last year's squad. Dwayne Roloson, Teddy Purcell, Eric Brewer and, of course, Steven Stamkos all return with new deals.
The backup goalie position opened up after Mike Smith took on the No. 1 job in Phoenix. Filling that void will be Mathieu Garon (2-year, $2.6 million) who spent the last two seasons in Columbus.
With more responsibility in Ottawa last season, Ryan Shannon posted career bests in goals (11), assists (16), points (27), and games played (79). He'll figure into the wing depth after a 1-year $625,000 contract.
Defenseman Bruno Gervais (1-year, $525,000) had spent his entire 6-year NHL career with the New York Islanders battling with injuries. He can be a nice fit depth-wise if he's able to stay healthy after missing 40 games over the past two seasons.
Seeing his role diminished in the playoffs, Simon Gagne headed west to sign a 2-year, $7 million deal with the Los Angeles Kings. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sean Bergenheim took his 9-goal playoff performance and cashed in on the Florida Panthers' spending spree with a 4-year, $11 million deal.
The late-season acquisition of Eric Brewer and the signings of Gervais and Matt Gilroy pushed Randy Jones (1-year, $1.15 million, Winnipeg), Mike Lundin (1-year, $1 million, Minnesota) and Matt Smaby (1-year, $600,000, Anaheim) off the Tampa blueline.
At forward ... There's no talking about the Lightning up front without beginning with the three-headed arsenal of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos.
After a start that saw him pot 21 goals in 22 games, Stamkos slowed up in the second half and only finished with 45 after sharing the Rocket Richard Trophy with Sidney Crosby in 2009-10 with 51 goals. Those back-to-back seasons moved him into the "elite" conversation with Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and earned him a 5-year, $37.5 million extension over the summer.
The heart and soul of the Lightning is within their two most-tenured players in Lecavalier and St. Louis. The 31-year old Lecavalier looked back to his old self after a hand injury cost him 15 games early on. During the playoffs, it was vintage Lecavalier as he finished second in team scoring behind St. Louis with 19 points. Even as he gets older, St. Louis seems to just get better. Now 36, his 99 points and 12 PIMs earned him a Hart nomination and the Lady Byng trophy. St. Louis has also proved durable with a current 472 consecutive games-played streak heading into this season.
Tampa averaged 2.94 goals/game, putting them eighth (241) in the NHL. Aside from the big guns up top, it's their scoring depth that helped them rank that high. Eight players returning from last year's roster hit double digits in goals starting with Teddy Purcell who had a breakout season with 17 goals and 51 points. He earned a 2-year deal in the summer and now he'll be looked upon to prove last season wasn't a fluke. Nate Thompson (10 goals, 25 points) took advantage of a full-time opportunity and made the most of it. He also earned Boucher's trust by showing strength in the faceoff circle winning 59.4-percent of his draws.
Injuries hindered the seasons of Ryan Malone (54 games, 38 points) and Steve Downie (57 games, 32 points), but helping to pick up their scoring slack was veteran journeyman Dominic Moore who posted a career high in goals with 18 and finished with 32 points. Noted for his two-way abilities, Moore impressed on the penalty kill and excelled in his defensive responsibilities.
Hoping to find a spot in the lineup on opening night is Mattias Ritola who played in just 31 games last season. Battling Meniere's disease, which causes dizzy spells, Ritola received treatment and took medication that's lessened its effects on him. He put up 27 points in 17 games with Norfolk of the AHL last season and the Lightning will be looking at him to be one of the players helping to replenish the production that left over the summer.
On defense ... The blueline was a bit of a mess before Eric Brewer was acquired in February. Entering Brewer's first game as a member of the Lightning, Tampa had been averaging 2.89 goals against/game. In the 22 games after the deal, that number dropped to 2.23. The former St. Louis Blues captain's presence (with a little help from Dwayne Roloson) paid huge dividends immediately.
Aside from Brewer, it's a veteran-laden defense corps. Mattias Ohlund, Brett Clark and Pavel Kubina surround up-and-coming Victor Hedman, who improved in his sophomore season. Not the meanest of blueliners, Hedman saw a big of a bump in his responsibilities and chipped in 26 points.
Marc-Andre Bergeron is the team's power play specialist. Of his 14:19 average ice time per game last season, 3:25 of it was spent with the extra man. Matt Gilroy and Bruno Gervais fill the void of Tampa's defensive depth that took a hit after losing three blueliners over the summer.
In goal ... Dwayne Roloson was a season-saver in 2010-11. Coming over from the Islanders, Roloson helped a defense that ended up finishing 21st from getting much, much worse. His play in the playoffs speaks for itself and he was rewarded with a 1-year extension. Hoping to keep him fresh and healthy for the season, Yzerman brought in Garon, a veteran backup capable of easing Roloson's workload by playing 30-35 games.
"Goldeneye." Once-great franchise gets kick-started by a sexy new leading man, an updated plot and some, er, eye candy.
The hockey world fell in love with the coaching styles of Guy Boucher. His approach of finding how to inspire each player led to improved production from a number of his players. Now that the NHL has a year of scouting on him, his second season behind the Lightning bench might make for the hardest.
The rookie GM brought on a rookie head coach and it worked. Steve Yzerman was groomed under Ken Holland in the Detroit Red Wings organization and there isn't a better place to learn on the job. Yzerman didn't make any rash moves, in fact, his best move was acquiring Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders on Jan. 1. Rolson went 18-12-4 after coming over in the trade.
Carter Ashton will begin the year with Norfolk, but the 6-foot-3, 215 lbs. forward should make an impact for the Lightning at some point this season. The son of former NHL journey man Brent, Ashton put up 71 points in the WHL last season and is very familiar with Boucher's system having attended Tampa's last two training camps.
"I AM MASTER OF THE LIGHTNING AND SEVERAL YEARS YOUNGER THAN DWAYNE ROLOSON."
We've seen it many times before. A player has a breakout season when he's due for a new contract. That was the case with Teddy Purcell in 2010-11 as his 17 goals and 51 points (and 17 points in the postseason) earned him a 2-year, $4.75 million contract just before a scheduled arbitration hearing. Playing next to Lecavalier will help your point totals and now with a new deal and expectations on him, it's up to Purcell to provide the secondary scoring that helped put the Lightning eighth in the NHL last season.
Steven Stamkos showed last December he's listened to the penalty shot advice from teammate Martin St. Louis:
Is Dwayne Roloson solid enough to reach that level he went to after coming over in the New Year's Day deal that helped set the path for the Lightning to reach the Conference Final? He's never been a workhorse, and with the signing of Roloson's former partner in Edmonton, Garon, it'll ensure he remains fresh in preparation for the playoffs.
All the pieces fell in place for a magical season last year; the Lightning won't surprise anyone in 2011-12. Tampa should challenge the Washington Capitals for the Southeast Division crown and once again find themselves in the East playoff mix. How far they'll go will once again be up to Roloson's play and whether or not their depth can complement the offensive leaders in Lecavalier, Stamkos and St. Louis.