How Offseason Additions and Departures Will Affect Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning put together a strong showing this offseason as general manager Steve Yzerman looks to build a perennial playoff contender. The Bolts improved their all-around game through a handful of trades and free-agent signings.
Most notably, the additions of defensemen Jason Garrison (from Vancouver, trade) and Anton Stralman (free agent) aimed to improve the team's most glaring weakness. These two veteran defensemen could see top-four minutes and will definitely make the training camp competitions more interesting.
The Lightning improved from top to bottom this offseason, but not without the departure of some notable names. Players like Pierre-Cedric Labrie (Chicago), Keith Aulie (Edmonton), Nate Thompson (Anaheim) and Teddy Purcell (Edmonton) will all be playing in new uniforms next year.
Despite those losses, Tampa Bay fans should be excited about the offseason put together by the front office. Let's take a look at how these offseason moves will affect the Bolts.
Pressure Makes Diamonds
If last year's training camp was intense, this year's camp will be even more crazy. Last year, it was all about which young players would crack the roster. Top prospect Jonathan Drouin was sent back to Juniors, while players like Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn solidified everyday spots.
Additions of Jason Garrison, Anton Stralman, Brendan Morrow and Brian Boyle will make things extremely interesting for the young talent in the system. Some of the Lightning's better prospects will be on what could be viewed as an extended tryout in 2014-15.
Mark Barberio, Brett Connolly, Cody Kunyk, Richard Panik and Andrej Sustr were all re-signed to one-year deals this offseason. Those one-year deals could turn into make-or-break seasons.
The additional pressure will make for some fun battles to watch not only during training camp, but throughout the season.
The Lightning decided to part ways with a handful of players this offseason, accompanied by a variety of justifications. The departure of players like Anders Lindback and Ryan Malone may be easier to accept for fans than the loss of Teddy Purcell or Pierre-Cedric Labrie.
The Bolts managed to accomplish a few things with these departures. They cleared cap space, opened up roster spots and eliminated pieces that no longer fit the team's mold.
Tampa Bay looks like they are trying to change their identity after the disappointing showing in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last year. Bigger, less agile guys like Malone and Labrie were moved to allow for what appears to be four lines of ice-stretching attack.
Going, Going, Goal
Despite the performance of Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop in goal last season, the Lightning still have questions in the crease. Injuries plagued the young netminder down the stretch, which, for the second consecutive year, makes the competition for No. 2 goalie a high priority.
Tampa Bay already has solid goaltending prospects Kristers Gudlevskis, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Adam Wilcox fighting for their turn at the NHL level. Still, the Lightning brought in veteran Evgeni Nabokov and prospect Allen York.
Who knows how long either goaltender will wear a Lightning sweater, but don't expect Nabokov to be handed the No. 2 gig immediately. With capable young netminders waiting, the Lightning crease will be an interesting one to watch thanks to this busy offseason.
Back to the Future
Tampa Bay's acquisitions this season looked to address winning both now and later. Adding veterans like Brendan Morrow (35) and Evgeni Nabokov (38) indicate the Bolts feel they are close to being an elite team. Those veterans also allow for prospects to develop at a slower pace.
If Andrei Vasilevskiy and Kristers Gudlevskis aren't ready to go out of camp, they have another year to develop. The same can be said for any one of the Lightning forward prospects that may need additional time behind Morrow.
One thing that cannot go overlooked this offseason is the Lightning's stress on draft picks. The 2015 NHL draft class could include some game-changers. While the Bolts hope they won't be picking early in 2015, they managed to pick up additional draft picks from Arizona and Anaheim.
The Bolts seem to be on their way to building a perennial playoff contender. With the fourth-rated prospect system in the league, they continue to reload the weapons.