The 5 Biggest Questions Surrounding Tampa Bay Lightning's Roster
Despite a fairly quiet offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning have some big questions surrounding the roster for 2013-14. With the draft and the beginning of free agency already in the books, Tampa Bay looks forward to improving with the roster on hand.
Entering his first season behind the bench, coach Jon Cooper will look to put his stamp on the Lightning and bring them back to the playoffs. After finishing 28th last season, Tampa Bay knows there is a lot to improve.
With another solid draft class and the league’s best prospect system, the Lightning have the young tools to be a competitive team next year—if they can answer these questions.
Where Does Jonathan Drouin Fit?
This year’s first-round pick Jonathan Drouin signed a three-year deal and could be NHL-ready next season. If he is NHL-ready, where does he fit in the Lightning lineup?
Is he possibly ready to set up sniper Steven Stamkos on the top line with Martin St. Louis? Can you justify playing him on the third line? What if he isn’t ready and he stays with Syracuse in the American Hockey League?
Drouin’s road to the NHL won’t be easy. With a loaded prospect system, he will have to compete and perform on a daily basis.
Stay or Go, Ryan Malone?
Ryan Malone could have been bought out like Vincent Lecavalier was earlier this offseason. He wasn’t. The Lightning have expressed interest in moving him but haven’t put a lot of effort into it.
Malone carries a $4.5 million cap hit, but when healthy, he can be a consistent presence and producer. If he gets moved, the Lightning don’t have a lot of NHL experience on the roster—aside from St. Louis’ ridiculously productive career.
If he is still a Bolt come training camp, is he a first-line guy? Can you justify paying him $4.5 million to play third- or fourth-line minutes? Or, do you make him a healthy scratch until he requests a trade?
Your Crease or Mine?
Lost in the shuffle of draft picks, buyouts and an offense that makes fans giddy is one glaring question: Who is the goaltender?
The Lightning acquired Anders Lindback last offseason. A few months later, they snagged Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher.
Combined, Lindback and Bishop have 87 career starts. In case anyone forgot, there are 82 games in a season. Lindback’s 21 starts last season is the highest total for either goaltender in one year.
Will the Lightning go with a distinct No. 1 and No. 2 or will it be a No. 1 and No. 1a? After finishing 26th in the league in goals against last season (3.06 per game), it may be more of a No. 2 and No. 2a.
The Most Expensive Player Not Playing
Mattias Ohlund has one of the higher salaries on the Lightning with a $3.6 million cap hit. He is under contract until after the 2015-16 season, but hasn’t played a game since 2011. He has been on injured reserve since mid-January this season due to knee issues.
The injury means he can’t be bought out. Retiring isn’t really an option, because who wants to give up that much money? So the Lightning just sit on this contract until he is either A) healthy enough to play, B) retires or C) is healthy enough to be bought out or traded.
The Lightning would probably have another move or two in their minds this offseason if they had the additional cap space.
Who Makes This Roster Anyway?
Outside of Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Matt Carle, Teddy Purcell and the goaltenders, just about every spot on the roster is up for grabs. The players from the Syracuse Crunch know how to win. Some of them got NHL experience last year and will have a step up, but nothing is guaranteed.
Players like Brett Connolly are itching to get back to a full-time job in the NHL. Here is a list of a few players who will be fighting for spots:
- Brett Connolly
- Tyler Johnson
- Richard Panik
- Alex Killorn
- Pierre-Cedric Labrie
- Nate Thompson
- Vladislav Namestnikov
- Radko Gudas
- Slater Koekkoek
- Mark Barberio
- Andrej Sustr
- Nikita Kucherov
- Ondrej Palat
- Matthew Peca
Good luck to Jon Cooper and the rest of the front office picking the final roster here.