The Biggest Questions for the Remainder of Tampa Bay Lightning's 2014 Offseason
The Tampa Bay Lightning head into the 2014-15 season with an unfamiliar target on their backs. Their reloaded roster should make the Lightning one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference, but they still have some questions to answer before the puck drops on Oct. 9.
The Bolts have addressed just about every positional weakness in the organization through a solid offseason plan. They loaded up on defensemen in the 2014 entry draft and added veteran players through trade and free agency.
Tampa Bay had eight rookies play in at least 41 games last season, five more than any other team in the NHL. Adding veterans was going to be a key piece this offseason, and the Lightning addressed that need.
With all 50 contract-eligible spots taken, the Lightning's next move will be deciding who makes that opening day roster. As we prepare for the upcoming preseason, here are the Bolts' biggest questions for the remainder of the 2014 offseason.
Reaching the Pinnacle
It will be interesting to see if coach Jon Cooper's second full season at the helm of the Lightning is as successful as the first. A winner on every level, Cooper now faces a new challenge of reaching the top of the proverbial hockey-coaching mountain.
Cooper is 51-35-12 behind the Lightning bench, but both of those seasons came with minimal expectations. This offseason has brought an unfamiliar focus to Tampa Bay. Cooper will now have to direct his squad not only to the postseason but a deep playoff run.
He has excelled so far in the NHL, but this season he will be asked to reach the top of that mountain. The young coach will need to have his team prepared on a nightly basis for the opponent's best game.
Will Cooper be able to take this re-tooled team to new heights?
One of the biggest tasks ahead of Cooper and his coaching staff will be teaching a new system to all of the new additions on the Lightning roster. That will make for a busy rest of the offseason.
Adding players like Jason Garrison, Anton Stralman and retaining Ryan Callahan show the Bolts are an attractive franchise. It's a common ploy for players to want to go somewhere that can win. The Lightning attracting such a wide variety of players means the hockey community must see a storm brewing in Tampa Bay.
However, it is always a question of chemistry when so many new faces come together. The Lightning were a resilient group that rallied around the loss of Steven Stamkos last season. Finding similar chemistry through training camp will be crucial to a fast start.
Hockey is a game of millimeters and nanoseconds. One half step late or early and the play doesn't develop. All the new faces need to learn the new system and find chemistry with their linemates. That's not an easy task on any level.
Are These the Right Pieces?
Predicting the Lightning's opening night roster could cause more than one headache. Tampa Bay finished third in the Eastern Conference and didn't use a variety of their top-draft picks in recent years.
Brett Connolly spent last year in the AHL. Jonathan Drouin was in juniors. Vladislav Namestnikov played in just four NHL games. Then add the players acquired through free agency and trades, and things get awfully cloudy on the NHL roster.
It will be up to the coaching staff to try to fit these pieces into the proper places. Whether this is the correct recipe for success or not, we will find out next summer.
Is This the Beginning of the Lightning's Golden Era?
There are a few franchises in the NHL that command respect for their performances on a yearly basis. In recent years, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins have solidified their place at the top of the NHL pecking order.
What might be even more impressive, however, is the performance of a once Steve Yzerman-led Detroit Red Wings franchise. The Red Wings made the playoffs for the 23rd-straight season last year despite injuries and a revamped roster.
As general manager, Yzerman appears to be trying to build a southern version of the Red Wings. The Bolts have depth, skill and playoff appearance No. 1 under their belt. Are we seeing the beginning of the Lightning's golden era?