Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning have an intriguing offseason to prepare for new division foes.
The Bolts are going on three years removed from their trip to the Eastern Conference Finals (2010-11). Unfortunately, that playoff success was an exception to the general rule of playoff misses.
The Lightning will look to turn things around in 2013-14 and get back to the success of the early 2000s. Here are the biggest storylines to follow during the Tampa Bay offseason.
Jon Cooper is preparing for his first full season behind the bench of the Lightning.
Former coach Guy Boucher inherited a squad that had all of the pieces in place already. He used those pieces and went to the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, the NHL has its ebbs and flows.
A similar team failed to reach the playoffs in 2011-12 and didn’t perform to a high level in 2012-13, which led to a change behind the bench. Now, coach Jon Cooper inherits a similar team, but he was allowed to hold auditions for roster spots for the second half of the 2013 season.
How much influence will Cooper have on the decisions made by general manager Steve Yzerman? Yzerman has said some significant changes will be made this offseason (via The Tampa Tribune).
Vincent Lecavalier has the team's highest salary cap hit, but injuries have derailed his production.
Next year’s salary cap is set to be $64.3 million. The Lightning already have $60.9 million in salaries for that season. The lack of flexibility in the salary cap will make this offseason extremely difficult to read.
The easiest way to clear up salary-cap room is to make a few trades. Can the Lightning dismantle the core group to give more long-term money to the young prospects?
Tampa Bay will need some salary room to sign its No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft.
The Bolts move to a new division next year. That division includes five playoff teams from last season: Boston, Detroit, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
Tampa Bay succeeded in the Southeast Division by using a wide-open offense that made up for a below-average defense. Against teams like Florida and Carolina, the Bolts could get away with it. They don’t have that luxury next season.
Tampa Bay will need to establish its identity quickly under Cooper. Will it find a way to bolster the physicality of the game to match the Bruins and Red Wings? Or, does Tampa Bay continue with the super-charged offense and try to outscore opponents?
Ben Bishop outperformed Anders Lindback last season, but these two young goaltenders will be fighting for time this offseason.
If this sounds familiar, the Lightning’s goaltending situation still hasn’t found a definitive solution. Last offfseason, Anders Lindback was acquired but took a puck off the leg in European action during the lockout. Lindback suffered an ankle injury late last season, which prompted the acquisition of Ben Bishop.
With the luxury of a full training camp and preseason schedule, it will be interesting to see how the Bolts handle the goaltending split. Goaltending prospect Andrei Vasilevski clouds the goaltending situation with a murky contract situation in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Owner Jeff Vinik has put his entire focus on the Lightning. What does that mean for the Bolts?
The Tampa Bay Lightning have arguably the best ownership group in the NHL. Jeff Vinik leads the Bolts with a unique vision. That vision provided $40 million in renovations to the Tampa Times Forum including a party deck, pipe organ, interior lighting and luxury suite renovations.
Oh, Vinik also provided the Bolts with the largest center-hung television in the U.S. and Canada. He did all of these renovations without any burden on Tampa Bay taxpayers.
The owner recently closed his hedge fund to focus on the Lightning. That leads to the question of, what will he do next for the Bolts?