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Tampa's Achilles Heel and Why the Atlantic Division will be Toughest in '08-'09

Justin GarzoneContributor IJuly 10, 2008

With all of the roster changes the Tampa Bay Lightning have undergone, many people are expecting them to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, when they lost in the first round. 

Yes, they added some highly talented players in the likes of first-overall pick Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Radim Vrbata, Mark Recchi, as well as Vinny Prospal, who they rented to the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline last season.  But, there is still an unproven presence between the pipes.

The overhaul began with a change in ownership in the Tampa organization.  Oren Koules and Len Barrie took over the team and immediately promised to end the Bolts' losing ways. 

They bid adieu to long-time coach John Tortorella, who coached the Cup clinching team in 2004, and brought in ESPN analyst and former coach Barry Melrose.  When free-agency started on July 1, they were very aggressive and were able to sign the previously mentioned free agents. 

Adding offense was a priority for the Lighthing.  However, in spite of all the additions, they have not keyed on the goaltender position.  They signed the aging veteran Olaf Kolzig in a move most see as being the backup to former Dallas Star Mike Smith. 

Smith is still an unproven goaltender mainly because he was the backup to Marty Turco while he was in Dallas.  He was sent to Tampa as a part of the deal that brought Brad Richards to the Stars. 

Building a team has to start with the goaltender and progress out.  That is part of what is going to make the Atlantic Division one of the most competitive next season.  All five teams have clear-cut No. 1 players in the crease. 

Philadelphia has Martin Biron, the Islanders have Rick DiPietro, the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist, New Jersey has future hall-of-famer Martin Brodeur, and the Penguins have young stud Marc-Andre Fleury. 

All of these teams have also added big name players in front of their goalies.  Names like Briere, Gomez, Drury, Timonen, Crosby, Malkin, Guerin, Weight, Richards, Rolston are all featured on the Atlantic Division's rosters.

Having superstar players is all well and good, but if there isn't anybody stopping pucks behind them, then what's the point?  My prediction is that Tampa will make the playoffs as a low seed or finish just outside the eighth spot.

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