by Patrick Hoffman on 09/23/08 at 11:45 PM ET
Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were not only the joke of the Eastern Conference, but also the entire National Hockey League finishing with the worst record at 31-42-9 for 71 points.
Going into this season, however, the Lightning may turn out to be one of the better teams in the league with new acquisitions Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Olaf Kolzig, Jussi Jokinen, Vaclav Prospal, Radim Vrbata, Mark Recchi, Andrej Meszaros, Matthew Carle and oh yeah, the No.1 draft pick of 2008, Steven Stamkos.
Put those players with the likes of new team captain Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, you’re suddenly looking at a team who has as good a chance as any to win the Southeast Division and make a run deep into the playoffs.
The team also has a new head coach in Barry Melrose, who knew how to bring the Los Angeles Kings together back in 1992-93 to reach the Stanley Cup Finals before bowing out to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.
Obviously, no one is expecting the Lightning to win the Cup this season but after winning two of their first three preseason games and getting solid play from all their positions, especially Stamkos, at least making the playoffs isn’t so far fetched.
Stamkos has shown so far that he can play with the big boys, taking lots of shifts in his first game against the Penguins, beating Crosby on face-offs, generating scoring chances and scoring the shootout winning goal. Tonight against the New York Rangers, he scored his first goal by beating the netminder (Miika Wiikman) with a perfect top corner shot. The Lightning probably hope that it will be his first of many, many more.
Stamkos isn’t the only player that the Lightning expect big things from as they are counting on all their new signings/acquisitions to provide the team with lots of offensive depth. The team was 16th in the league when it came to scoring goals last season so one has to think that that number will get better this season.
While the team’s scoring may be set, it’s their defense and goaltending that is questionable. Defensively, the team will rely on newcomers Carle and Meszaros to support what is considered a weak Lightning defense while goaltenders Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig will try to provide the team with good enough goaltending to give their team a chance to win some hockey games.
I think that this team will surprise a lot of people this year and show their fans and the league that Stamkos and all their new signings/acquisitions were worth it. Remember, this team won a Cup four years ago and the only things that are different with this team is their questionable defense and goaltending. If they can take care of these two areas, a divisional title might turn out to be a reasonable goal for the new Bolts.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.