Tampa's Steve Yzerman has put together an improved team for 2013.
The Tampa Bay Lightning addressed their biggest weaknesses from last season and look ready to return to the postseason. The Lightning have a few reasons to believe they will be better in 2012-13.
Tampa had high hopes heading into last season. After coming one game short of the Stanley Cup finals in 2011, the Lightning underachieved and missed the playoffs by eight points.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman knows the playoffs well. He won three Stanley Cups as a players and another in the front office.
Missing the playoffs doesn’t sit well with the GM, forcing him to make some big moves this offseason.
Tampa’s acquisitions of defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo and goaltender Anders Lindback were well documented this offseason.
But Tampa has a lot more invested in the upcoming season than many realize. Outside of the Bolts’ superstars, here is why they will be better in 2012-13.
Tampa Bay struggled last season with depth, especially on defense. The Bolts used a strong draft class and timely acquisitions to turn that around.
Key Additions on Defense
- Matt Carle
- Sami Salo
- Slater Koekkoek (First-Round Pick)
- Matt Taormina
The Bolts also added some significant players on offense.
- Benoit Pouliot
- Kyle Wilson
- B.J. Crombeen
Tampa now has depth on both ends of the ice, which is crucial since it lost 321 man games to injury last season.
The Bolts played without big names Victor Hedman, Mattias Ohlund. Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone and Adam Hall for a significant portion of last season.
"It was very difficult [the 2011-12 season], but if we hit adversity like that again, we'll be more apt to be able to deal with it having already gone through it," Tampa head coach Guy Boucher said. "That's important, because [this upcoming season] I think we're going to be better."
Yzerman has said that he will leave open forward spots during camp in order to give the Bolts’ top prospects a chance at making the roster.
The Bolts have talent and depth. They will need both in an improved Southeast Division.
The Bolts won the Stanley Cup nearly a decade ago. This marks the 20th Anniversary of the team.
This season marks the 20th anniversary of the Lightning.
Tampa joined the NHL as an expansion team in 1992.
The Bolts have launched a website featuring the milestone, complete with a timeline of the team’s history.
This season obviously means a lot to the organization and its fans. It should provide significant motivation for the Bolts to get back to the playoffs.
An improved Southeast Division will make the Bolts' schedule a dogfight on a nightly basis.
Tampa had the second-best record in the Southeast Division against in-division teams (13-7-4). Only Winnipeg had a better record (14-6-4).
With an improved Southeast Division, the Lightning have to continue that level of success. If they do, the Bolts should be a playoff team.
Tampa hasn’t been below .500 against division opponents since the 2008-09 season.
An improved Southeast should provide the Bolts with consistent tough opponents that require a high level of play on a nightly basis.
If Tampa can beat division foes, it should provide the team with momentum to carry through the rest of the Eastern Conference schedule.
The toughest division in the Eastern Conference is the Atlantic, where four teams recorded over 100 points last season. Tampa went 9-10-1 against Atlantic teams last season.
The Achilles heel for the Bolts comes in the Northeast Division, where they had a 7-12-1 record.
Tampa’s rough season in 2011-12 could all be forgotten if it finds its way back to the playoffs in 2013.