The Tampa Bay Lightning were the talk of the offseason this year.
First it was because of the addition of Steve Yzerman as the team's new General Manager. Then, it was for everything that Yzerman was able to do over the offseason.
Now with another offensive-minded defenseman, another mega-talented forward and a second goalie to split starting duties, many are eager to see what Yzerman's club is going to be able to do this year.
With the All-Stars (Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier) and the promising young talent (Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman) already in place, Yzerman has a view of this team that should materialize, if not this season, then over the next few.
1) Dan Ellis plays in more games than Mike Smith
Early on the advantage lies with Smith because of the time he's already spent in Tampa Bay, but Ellis is no slouch either. It's a tad surprising to see that Smith has more NHL experience than Ellis (141 NHL games to Ellis' 111), but Smith has also been prone to go through slumps. Ellis will capitalize on those opportunities and earn himself the majority of the work.
Who leads the Lightning in scoring?
2) Simon Gagne scores 30, Lecavalier has 50 helpers
Lecavalier has been through a pair of down seasons, but he should be back on track with the addition of a fellow Quebec native (Well...another—St. Louis is from Quebec as well). He and Gagne will be beginning the season on the same line, and with Vinny's play-making ability and Gagne's propensity for finishing plays off, they should make a deadly combination.
3) Steven Stamkos has more than 50 penalty minutes
With his breakout performance last year, many will be targeting Stamkos this year, but he's one of many players who have been training with Gary Roberts during the off-season, and really was Roberts' star-pupil (and first success story as he's attributed with Stamkos' monster year last season). With the muscle he's added going in to his third NHL season, Stamkos will be bigger and stronger, and a little meaner as well.
4) Victor Hedman doesn't break 30 points
He has plenty of talented forwards to pass too and another big shot on the blueline in Pavel Kubina, but Hedman's strength is going to lie in using his 6'6" frame to shut down opposing forwards. If he does break 30 points though, I wouldn't be surprised if it's from leading the defense in goals-scored. He'll be a Chris Pronger-esque player soon enough.
5) Steve Downie hits 20 goals but not 200 penalty minutes
Downie is one of those few players that can combine being a pain in the butt with being a competent scorer. However, I think last year's 20/200 season was a bit of an aberration. Downie will continue to be a threat for penalty minutes and goals, but he'll probably only spend 150 to 170 minutes in the box this year.
6) Kubina clicks for 35 points
If the Tampa Bay Lightning decide to go with a four-forward power play (and let's face it, they could have two effective rotations of four forwards), then that's an awful lot of toys for that lone defenseman to play with. Kubina will not only have plenty of options to pass off to, but skilled forward heading to the net to try and capitalize on any opportunity his shot can create.
7) The goals-against doesn't get much better
The Tampa Bay Lightning were 27th-overall in total goals-against last year, and you have to wonder how much of an improvement there will be. The top four is much better with the additions of Kubina and Brett Clark over Andrej Meszaros and Kurtis Foster, but Mike Lundin will have to make a big jump in his development while Michael Vernace is an NHL unknown and Randy Jones isn't a long-term solution.
In net, while I do like Dan Ellis, he and Smith will have to prove that one of them can be (or they combine into) a playoff calibre starter.
8) The power play is the top three in the league
Stamkos won't lead the league in power play markers again, but with a bounce-back Lecavalier, the addition of Gagne, and the offensive depth, they'll be tough to stop.
9) Dominic Moore nets the Lightning more value in a trade than on the ice
Honestly, I really like Moore as a third-line centre. But the fact that he's been traded for a third-round pick and two second-round picks in his career is puzzling. That seems like a bit of an over-payment for a guy whose best stretch of his career came on a shorthanded Toronto Maple Leafs team. Somehow Yzerman will find a way to turn him into Alexander Semin or something crazy like that.
10) Mattias Ritola earns himself consistent ice time
Ritola kind of interests me. He won't be a top-six scorer (at least not on this team), but he's gradually improved as a goal-scorer over the past three years in the AHL. The former Red Wings draft pick may not be flashy, but if Tampa gives him a chance he could follow St. Louis, Stamkos, Lecavalier, Gagne, Downie, and Malone as a scoring threat.
The Stretch (Remember you're supposed to laugh): Steve Yzerman does what no one else could do, and that's trade Vincent Lecavalier. In a puzzling move, he ships Vinny to Detroit for Johan Franzen and six minor leaguers. Knowing the system (and Detroit's track record) so well, four of those six turn into 20-goal scorers for the lightning. The other two he trades for Drew Doughty.
Bryan Thiel is a senior writer and a columnist for Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game! If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at BryanThiel_88.