Ranking Tampa Bay Lightning's Top Offseason Priorities

Eric SteitzAnalyst IIIApril 24, 2013

Ranking Tampa Bay Lightning's Top Offseason Priorities

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning’s promising start to the season quickly took a downward turn and led to head coach Guy Boucher’s firing. With a new coach―Jon Cooper―in place, the Lightning look toward the offseason with five priorities if they want to compete for a playoff spot next season.

    On Feb. 2, the Lightning held the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a 6-1-0 record. Boston and Ottawa were a point behind (11), and the Pittsburgh Penguins were sitting in eighth place.

    A lot has changed since the first few weeks of the season. Tampa Bay keeps on improving their lottery pick chances with every game as they continue to fall down the league standings. The Bolts are 2-6-2 in the last 10 games and sit 28th in the league standings.

    With holes to fill, here are the Lightning’s top-five priorities for the offseason.

5. Lock Up the Young Talent

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    The Lightning have young talent. They have players who fit just about every role in the organization. Locking up the young talent to continue growth and development will be crucial for the future.

    Tampa Bay doesn’t need to re-sign every young player, especially with a deep prospect system. They do need to assess growth and possible replacements for some of the team’s aging superstars.

    Here are the young players who will be free agents in the next two seasons:

    Radko Gudas (2013, RFA)

    Keith Aulie (2013, RFA)

    Pierre-Cedric Labrie (2013, UFA)

    Richard Panik (2014, RFA)

    Alex Killorn (2014, RFA)

    Dana Tyrell (2014, RFA)

4. Find Salary Cap Space

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    Tampa Bay has some serious cash tied up in a few players. Some are more deserving than others. With the salary cap expected to drop next season, they have some tough decisions to make.

    Vincent Lecavalier comes with a $7.7 million cap hit―the highest on the team. Steven Stamkos deservedly comes with a $7.5 million cap hit.

    Can the Lightning restructure Lecavalier’s contract? Do you buyout players like Eric Brewer or Ryan Malone?

    How much money will players like Gudas make in their next deal? What about an extension for Anders Lindback?

    It is going to be a tough offseason for the number crunchers in Tampa Bay.

3. One-on-One Winner

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning have one of the best, most potent offenses in the league. They are tied for third in the league with 3.09 goals per game. With players like Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, it’s no shock to see the team that successful, but the offense is incomplete.

    Stamkos is a great shooter but not a one-on-one winner. St. Louis is creative with the puck but doesn’t have the size to keep the puck away from big defensemen.

    The Lightning need a player who can put pressure on the defense in a one-on-one situation. Think of what Detroit has with Pavel Datsyuk. He cannot be defended with one player which opens up the rest of the offense.

    Tampa Bay could use a player like that to allow Stamkos, Teddy Purcell and Tyler Johnson to find open ice to shoot.

2. New Goaltending Coach

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    The assistant coaches for the Lightning were brought on with Guy Boucher. Boucher was fired, but the rest of the coaching staff remained intact. Frantz Jean has been the current goaltending coach since Sept. 7, 2010.

    He has a long list of accomplishments, but NHL success isn’t one of them. In his first season, the Lightning finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.85 goals-against per game.

    In his second season, the Bolts finished last with a 3.39 GAPG. This year, Tampa Bay has a 3.07 GAPG―good enough for 26th.

    Blame for the Lightning’s goals against can be spread throughout the organization, but goaltending woes haven’t helped.

    Mike Smith, a Lightning goaltender in Jean’s first season, posted a 2.89 GAA. The following year, he went to the Phoenix Coyotes and won 38 games with a 2.21 GAA.

    Current Lightning goaltender, Mathieu Garon, came to the Bolts after a stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets. While the record doesn’t show it, Garon’s individual statistics in Columbus are better than they have been in Tampa Bay. In Columbus, Garon had a higher save percentage (.903) and lower goals-against average (2.81) than with the Lightning.

    The Lightning need a change with two young goaltenders who are fighting for a No. 1 spot. Tampa Bay could―optimistically―have a situation like the New Jersey Devils have with Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg, but that is only if they can bring in the right goaltending coach.

1. Defense…again

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    Once again, defense is this team’s top priority heading into the offseason. Matt Carle and Victor Hedman look to be locks in a Lightning uniform for the next few years. Other than those two, the Bolts have questions.

    Gudas deserves an extension. Does Eric Brewer? Sami Salo stayed healthy this season, but will he be able to in next year’s full season? What about the futures of Mark Barberio and Andrej Sustr?

    Tampa Bay also has a prospect in Slater Koekkoek who should compete for a spot in the top six next year. If the Bolts got the No. 1 pick in the draft, eyes should be on the top-rated North American skater, Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse or Finland’s Rasmus Ristolainen.

    If the Lightning want to compete next season, improvements from the blue line forward will be crucial.