September 5, 2013 by andymisek
The end of an era has ended in Tampa Bay: Vincent Lecavalier was bought out and the shakeup caused additional moves to be made by General Manager Steve Yzerman. A younger Tampa Bay Lightning will be taking the ice for the 2013-2014 NHL season. Younger doesn’t automatically equate to success as there will be some growing pains with the players in Tampa. The NHL Season Countdown continues with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 25th place.
It was a busy offseason for the Bolts and they wasted no time using one of their compliance buy-outs to terminate the monstrous contract held by Captain Vinny Lecavalier. The first overall pick in 1998, Lecavalier led the Bolts to a Stanley Cup in 2004, but Tampa couldn’t justify using $7.7 million in cap for Vinny’s services any longer. Tampa Bay signed free agent Valtteri Filppula to fill the void as 2nd line center.
The Bolts held the 3rd overall pick in the 2013 draft where they selected Jonathan Drouin, an extremely skilled play-maker who you can expect to see playing next to Steven Stamkos this season. Tampa will enjoy these two on their top line for many years to come.
When you have arguably the best natural goal scorer and the 2013 Art Ross winner on your first line, you expect to finish better than 27th in the league. Drafting Jonathan Drouin is a great consolation prize. Drouin, who is often compared to Patrick Kane, gives Tampa Bay more options when running their offense. Obviously, most of Tampa’s offense steams from Martin St. Louis feeding Stamkos. Adding Drouin to the fold will give Tampa greater options with their top line.
Alex Killorn and Richard Panik both made their NHL debuts in the shortened 2013 season and had rather impressive stints. Since they add much needed depth up-front, it would be rather shocking if they do not make the team. Nate Thompson, Teddy Purcell, and Ryan Malone will also be returning for the 2013-2014 season. Brett Connolly will also attempt to make a push back into the Bolt’s line-up after being sent down to Syracuse Crunch last season.
The state of Tampa Bay’s defense is dependent on how well Victor Hedman progresses. After being taken 2nd overall after John Tavares in 2009, Hedman was thought to be the solution to the Bolts defensive issues. Development has been slow, but he is coming along and Hedman has improved with each season. At only 22 years old, there is still plenty of time for development and, barring injury, this season will be another step in the right direction.
There is a large drop off in skill after Hedman and this is where Tampa begins to show major weakness. Sami Salo, Matt Carle and Eric Brewer are the experienced veterans on the team while Radko Gudas and Andrej Sustr are a couple guys who will be looking to take the remaining spots. There are numerous question marks with this group. Sami Salo is one of the most injury prone players in the league (missed over 10 games every season from 2005-2006 to the 2011-2012 season).
The Bolts are going into the season with two large, inexperienced goaltenders fighting for the number one job. Ben Bishop and Andres Lindback were back-ups with their previous clubs (Bishop in Ottawa and Lindback in Nashville) and are hungry for the starting position. Competition sometimes brings out the best in goaltenders, but a lack of experience leaves a lot of uncertainty. Can these guys steal games for Tampa or will both flop?
Tampa has a strong set of forwards that will win some high scoring games, but weak defense and questionable young goalies will ultimately be their downfall. Drouin and Stamkos will be lights out for Tampa for decades (assuming Tampa can keep them together and healthy) so the Bolts will need to focus on their aging defense. A lottery pick brings them into Aaron Ekblad territory for the 2014 draft. He could complete a rebuild for the Bolts.