(The 2014-15 NHL season is nearly upon us, and attempting to handicap the winners and losers can sometimes leave us speechless. So we decided to break down all 30 teams with the next best thing to words: Emojis!)
Last Season In Emojis
😊 😭 🏥 😨 😟
Last Season, In Summary
By most measures, the Tampa Bay Lightning were looking pretty good 17 games into the season. The team was 12-5-0, Steven Stamkos had 23 points (14-9=23), and Ben Bishop had established himself as the No. 1 goalie with an 11-2-0 record after 13 starts.
Then the lightning struck the clock tower.
Stamkos broke his leg against Boston, causing him to miss a significant chunk of the season (November to March), and took himself out of contention for the Canadian Olympic roster at the last second. The Lightning weren't terrible while Stamkos was out, but they weren't fantastic either with a 22-18-5 record. Much of the Lightning's success can be attributed to Bishop; however, he too missed various portions of the season with his own injury issues.
Those injuries likely cost him his spot on Team USA's roster for the Olympics.
Then there was Martin St. Louis. The Lilliputian leader of the Lightning, aided by the fantastic play of rookies Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, took over the offensive output in Stamkos's absence. St. Louis assumed his efforts would land him a place on the Canadian Olympic roster, especially seeing as TBL GM Steve Yzerman was putting it together, but alas, he was not selected.
Hurt by the snub, he requested a trade, and off he went to the Rangers for Ryan Callahan and draft picks at the deadline.
Stamkos returned to the lineup one day after the big trade, and he picked up right where he left off scoring 17 points (11-6=17) in the final 20 games. Bishop wasn't nearly as lucky. In the fourth-to-last game of the season, Bishop left the ice after 5:43 and wouldn't see the ice again the rest of the year. He had a dislocated elbow, and a wrist that required surgery.
Tampa finished second in the Atlantic Division with 101-points (46-27-9), and were promptly swept out of the playoffs by Montreal.
Last Season's Definitive Highlight
Not so much of a highlight as a nightmare inducing flashback for Lightning fans.
Stevie Y was pretty busy this off-season giving out money and mixing in a few trades here and there. The problem now is he is (at time of publication) about $1.88-million over the salary cap.
Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat ended up as Calder nominees and earned themselves three-year contract extensions. Ryan Callahan decided he liked Tampa Bay enough that he'd stay there for six more seasons. Ben Bishop played himself into a two-year extension.
Perhaps it was Callahan, or Florida's lack of income tax, that convinced former Rangers teammates Brian Boyle to sign for three-years and Anton Stralman for five-years (5!!). Other notable free agents signing deals with the team: Brenden Morrow and Evgeni Nabokov.
Yzerman stockpiled 2015 draft picks this off-season: He acquired a seventh-round pick, rights to Jeff Costello, and Jason Garrison from Vancouver for the Lightning's 2014 second round pick; acquired Sam Gagner for Teddy Purcell and proceeded to immediately flip him plus B.J. Crombeen to Arizona for a sixth-rounder (and TBL had to retain some of Gagner's salary); and acquired fourth and seventh round picks from Anaheim for Nate Thompson.
After his run-in with the law for DUI and cocaine possession, the Bolts exercised their second, and final, compliance buyout on Ryan Malone.
As long as Steven Stamkos is healthy, they know they can score goals. Duh.
Tampa has no problems when it comes to depth at forward.
The loss of Martin St. Louis, who led the team in points on the season even after the trade, leaves a hole in the offense. Palat (23-36=59), Johnson (24-26=50), and the much anticipated arrival of wunderkind Jonathan Drouin are expected to contribute enough to make up the difference.
Valtteri Filppula had a career year in goals with 25 in 75 games played. It seems like Filppula has been in the league forever and a day, but he's only 30 years old and entering in his 10th year in the league. If given good support on the wings, he could possibly produce at the same level.
J.T. Brown, Brett Connolly, Richard Panik, Alex Killorn and Nikta Kucherov will fill out the forward group. Boyle wlll be counted on for his physical play and penalty killing. Morrow brings some veteran leadership to a young group.
Victor Hedman had a career year as far as offensive numbers go. He more than doubled his season-best in point production with 55-points. He shouldered much of the defensive burden by leading the team in time-on-ice with an average 22:26. His partner, Matt Carle, was right behind him averaging 22:11 TOI, but he couldn't keep up with Hedman offensively despite playing all 82 games.
Adding Jason Garrison, Eric Brewer and Anton Stralman help take the pressure off of the younger Tampa defenseman. Although man/beast Radko Gudas seems to have no problem now that he's become accustomed to the NHL. Waiting in the wings is giant Andre Sustr at 6'8". Naturally he draws Chara-esque comparisons due to his size. We'll have to see on his play.
As long as he can stay healthy, Ben Bishop will be the No. 1 goaltender for the Lightning. Put as much stock as you'd like into the Vezina trophy voting, but he didn't play parts of this past season due to injury and he was still good enough to garner himself a nomination. He set career highs in all areas of his game: 63 games played, record of 37-14-7 with a .924 SV% and 2.23 GAA.
Backing up Bishop is crusty old veteran Evgeni Nabokov. Nabby spent the past three seasons with the New York Islanders. He played in 123 games on the Isle and was 57-43-18. He signed with Tampa for one year with a contract worth $1.55-million after a lackluster final season in New York going 15-14-8 with a .905 SV% and 2.74 GAA.
Probable Text Conversation Within Organization
By now we've established that everything is better with a little Stamkos in it. St. Louis and Stamkos tied with nine power play goals each despite Stamkos playing 25 less games.
Where the Bolts should be concerned is their penalty kill. It finished 23rd last season giving up the sixth-most goals short-handed. The addition of Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle, who saw heavy ice-time on the Rangers third-best PK-unit, will add some much needed consistency.
GM and Coach
Head coach Jon Cooper is entering his third season with the Lightning after taking over for fired Guy Boucher in March of 2014. Cooper is 51-35-12 all-time with the Bolts. He won a Calder Cup when coaching then-Lightning affiliate, Norfolk Admirals. The cup-winning team contained players he has on his roster with the big club and those still coming up through the system. Cooper has established himself as a darling of the coaching world. Unless something disastrous befalls the team, his job is probably pretty safe.
In April, Steve Yzerman, vice president and general manager, signed a four-year contract extension with the club; he had one year left on his current deal before receiving the extension. Like Cooper, unless the Bolts start the season on a massive skid, Stevie Y is locked in.
Although, it will be interesting to see how he handles the current salary cap situation for Tampa. He can spend the money, but can he manage it?
And Now, A Blooper
Yes, this entire thing counts as a blooper.
The Potential Best Thing About This Team
When it clicks, they have enough offensive firepower to beat opponents into submission.
The Potential Worst Thing About This Team
If Ben Bishop regresses or is hit by the injury bug, the team will have to either make a move to get a better backup, or ride some sort of combination of Nabokov, Kristers Gudlevskis, and Andrei Vasilevski.
Single Emoji Prediction
Prayer hands. Regardless of the deity they pray to, the Lightning better pray everyone, especially Stamkos and Bishop, stay healthy this season. No more Saint St. Louis as the comfortable go-to should anything terrible happen.
Prediction: If healthy, the Lightning are a sleeper team in the East. They'll make the playoffs and lose in the Eastern Conference Finals.