by PuckStopsHere on 10/20/08 at 03:44 PM ET
Over the summer, the Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the most talked about teams in the NHL. Their new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie made many bold moves with several signings and trades. It was expected that they would be a relatively high scoring team that would have problems preventing goals. In the early part of the season, that is not what we have seen. The Lightning are yet to win any games this season (though they have three regulation ties. The surprise is that they have been a very low scoring team.
The Lightning only have eight goals in five games. This makes them the lowest team in the NHL so far. This is surprising for a team that scored 2.7 goals per game last year, finishing in the middle of the league. This is a team with Vincent LeCavalier and Martin St Louis that spent considerable amounts of money bringing in further offence in Ryan Malone and Radim Vrbata. So far, they have seen their offence decline.
Their defence leads the NHL in shots allowed with 36.6 per game. However, due to very strong goaltending, they have only allowed a respectable 12 goals so far this season. Mike Smith has an outstanding .944 saves percentage so far and Olaf Kolzig has a very good .920 (this is a huge improvement from last year when his .892 saves percentage was among the league worst - although in two games that isn’t necessarily a meaningful improvement).
Tampa has wasted some very good goaltending in their five games so far. They haven’t been able to win despite it. Assuming the goaltending remains good, the Lightning should be able to steal a few games. They have enough offensive talent that they should be able to capitalize on good goaltending sometimes. This is no playoff team, but if the goaltending holds up it won’t be a last place team either.
LeCavalier and St Louis are too talented to not provide a moderate offence. It isn’t clear that their offence is better than last season where Brad Richards was around for most of the season. Some of the offensive changes may not lead to much improvement as incoming players forced out NHL talents like Michel Ouellet - and their production has to be replaced. Although I am not convinced of a big offensive improvement, there is not reason to expect a big decline in goals scored.
Their defence might be worse than it was last year. Their key additions in Andrej Meszaros and Matt Carle came with the subtractions of Dan Boyle and Filip Kuba. Likely they will continue to allow a lot of shots, but will not have be able to rely on the stellar goaltending they have seen so far.
In general, Tampa management have acted like the new bold trash-talking player in your fantasy hockey who makes a lot of lateral moves but is unable to figure out how to improve his team. The worst part comes if they get fed up and abandon things while the season is still underway. They have already made panic-type moves because things have not worked out well. They traded away Shane O’Brien and Michel Ouellet to Vancouver for Lukas Krajicek and Juraj Simek. This is a trade that attempts to shore up the weak defence, but it has so far had no success. It cost the Li9ghtning more talent than they brought in. This is typical of the kinds of trade available in the NHL. It is easy to make a bad trade, but very hard to make a good one. Tampa seems to be looking for a quick fix where none exist and will be willing to make bad trades in hopes of finding it.
The worst omen for the Lightning is an erratic management who may not be able to keep their hands off the team. They are not a good team and it seems they cannot resist the urge to tinker when things don’t go well (even if tinkering makes it worse). They are a team that if left alone will be one of the worst teams in the league, but will be well above the worst. If constantly tinkered with, they may be transformed into the worst team in the league. So far, they have had surprisingly good goaltending. Unfortunately it has come when they have had surprisingly poor offence. The offence should sort itself out in time, but the team may have been further tinkered with by then.
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