Perhaps it’s the NHL Lockout of 2004-05 to blame.
The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004. They have not won a playoff series since.
After their dramatic Game 7 win over Calgary in June of 2004, the 2004-05 NHL season was canceled. Any momentum generated from the championship run was lost during the 310-day lockout.
If any positive vibes remained once hockey started, they were surely extinguished during these past three seasons when Tampa Bay has failed to reach the postseason.
But there is plenty of optimism surrounding the team this season, thanks to a front-office overhaul which seems to be the thing to do nowadays in the league for franchises stuck in a rut.
Tampa Bay made a big splash by hiring Steve Yzerman, and he got right to business. Guy Boucher was brought in as head coach.
His offense-first style of attack should be a perfect fit for superstar-in-waiting Steven Stamkos, who scored 51 goals last season (tied with Sidney Crosby for the league-lead).
At 20 years old, Stamkos is one of the youngest players in the league, and at 39 years old, Boucher is the youngest coach in the league. That is not a coincidence and is actually a trend with the roster, as Tampa Bay is relying on youth to keep hope for the future.
The one veteran that will be surrounded by youth is 35-year-old Martin St. Louis.
He led the league in scoring in 2003-04. Combine Stamkos and St. Louis with Vincent Lecavalier and former Pittsburgh Penguin and Olympic standout Ryan Malone, and the Lightning look like they certainly have the firepower to challenge the Capitals.
But, of course, there is a reason why the Capitals are overwhelming favorites to win the Southeast Division. The glaring weakness will once again be in net, where the Lightning have no firm starter.
Mike Smith, along with Dan Ellis, who was brought in from Nashville, will compete for a spot or platoon in net, much like Smith and Antero Niittymaki did before Niittymaki was signed by San Jose. Smith was 13-25 in net last season with a 3.09 GAA compared to Niittymaki (21-23, 2.87 GAA).
The Tampa Bay Lightning schedule begins at home with a date against Atlanta on Saturday, Oct. 9. Tampa Bay then heads on a three-game road swing that includes trips against Eastern Conference finalists Montreal and Philadelphia.
The Lightning will be sent on three four-game road trips this season. Their first major divisional test comes Nov. 11 at Washington.
The 23rd-ranked offense from a year ago received a boost when winger Simon Gagne was signed away from Philadelphia.
Defensemen Pavel Kubina, a former Lightning player, and Brett Clark were brought on board to help a defense that ranked 27th in the league last season. The loss of Niittymaki will hurt in net, as will losing winger Alex Tanguay.
Tampa Bay Lightning Predictions: Outlook
The weak Southeast Division schedule is a plus for everyone involved.
Tampa Bay will be able to take advantage of that schedule as their young prospects come along. Add in the veterans that were added by Yzerman and the infusion of a new offensive-minded system from Boucher, and this could be an exciting season for the Lightning, who should remain the division-title mix late into the regular season.
Tampa Bay Lightning NHL Odds
Tampa Bay’s odds to win the Southeast Division are +700.
They are the only team not a longshot behind the Capitals, who are -900 to win the division. Tampa Bay is +1800 to win the Eastern Conference and +3000 to win the Stanley Cup.
A year after finishing with 80 points, the Lightning’s "over/under" for points this season is 92.5.
NHL Predictions for Tampa Bay Lightning
The Capitals won the Southeast by 38 points last season. A similar performance does not seem likely, and Tampa Bay has the ability and firepower to hang with the Capitals.
The Lightning, at +700 to win the Southeast Division, has plenty of value.