As the Tampa Bay Lightning take the ice tonight, a new era will dawn. The trio of owner Jefff Vinik, GM Steve Yzerman, and coach Guy Boucher get their first regular season look at their 2010 Bolts—a team they completely overhauled in the off-season.
Nine players will don Lightning sweaters for the first time in their careers and Tampa Bay also has two youngsters that will get their first shot at regular playing time. That's nearly half of the team turned over from last season.
To say Mr. Yzerman has re-worked this roster is an understatement.
The Lightning still have the 2009 Co-Richard Award winner in Steven Stamkos and the ageless mighty mouse, Martin St. Louis. The dimming star Vincent Lecavalier continues to try to recapture some of his former glory.
The Lightning also still have dependable Ryan Malone and sparkplug Steve Downie.
Yzerman added the scoring prowess of former Flyer All-Star Simon Gagne as well as former Islander Sean Bergenheim. The former has been deadly in the NHL and finally gives Tampa Bay a player to team with Lecavalier on the second line. If Gagne can stay healthy, he will provide the Lightning the secondary scoring they sorely missed last season, taking the pressure off Stamkos and St. Louis.
Yzerman intercepted his former team, the Red Wings, nabbing youngster Mattais Ritola off waivers and placing him on the Lightning opening night roster.
Yzerman rounded out the Lightning forward grouping with acquiring veteran Dominic Moore, promoting youngsters Adam Hall and Dana Tyrell, and keeping holdovers Nata Thompson and Teddy Purcell.
Yzerman really did his work on the blue line of Tampa Bay's roster. Former Bolt Stanley Cup champion Pavel Kubina is back after stops in Toronto and Atlanta. Yzerman also added veterans Brett Clark from Colorado, former Flyer and King Randy Jones and the surprise of the Lightning training camp Michael Vernance.
The trio make up nearly half of the Lightning's revamped defense. Joining them are holdovers Mattais Ohlund, Matt Smaby, and Mike Lundin. Tampa Bay's 2009 first round pick in the NHL Entry Draft, Victor Hedman, looks to progress in year two.
Joining incumbent Mike Smith this season is former Nashville Predator Dan Ellis. Ellis had his best season in 2007, going 23-10-3(OTL), with a .924 save percentage and a 2.34 GAA. For his career, Ellis has a solid .912 save percentage and a career 2.64 GAA.
Boucher describes Smith and Ellis as 50-50 as the Lightning starting goaltender.
The hottest coaching prospect on the market may have been Guy Boucher. At age 38, Boucher became the youngest coach in the NHL after quickly building a track record of success in the QMJHL and the AHL.
In addition to winning the AHL’s North Division Championship for 2009-10, Boucher’s Bulldogs team allowed just 182 goals during the 80-game regular season, the lowest total in the league. Its 271 goals scored marked the league’s third highest total. He was honored with the AHL’s Louis A. R. Pieri Award as its Coach of the Year.
Boucher's teams employ an innovative 1-3-1 forecheck that focus on attacking the opponent on every inch of the ice.
How will this young hockey team come together? Don't be surprised if they start out a bit slowly with a new coaching staff, new system and so many new pieces to the puzzle but I totally believe this hockey team has the talent and belief to be a contender.
If Simon Gagne can stay healthy and the Lightning can get some decent goaltending from Mike Smith and Dan Ellis, there's no reason why the Lightning not only will make the playoffs but contend for the Southeast division championship.
Prediction: 2nd in the SE Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference,