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Yzerman’s Moves Have Lightning Poised for Marked Improvement

In these early days of the Steve Yzerman era here in Tampa, the consensus opinion on his re-molding of the Lightning roster has been overwhelmingly positive.

He promised a methodical approach and got to work in just that fashion almost immediately, adding here, subtracting there and strengthening the overall product all the while.

Few onlookers, if any, have been unimpressed.

But what has been done under Yzerman to this point, until on-ice results can be considered, that is, has to be labeled with the age-old, “on paper” caveat.

Essentially, Yzerman has shed some dead wood, plugged a few holes, added much-needed depth in key areas and maybe, just maybe, found the spark to reignite his club’s captain’s once-dynamic career. And before we forget, he’s given the hottest young coaching commodity in the hockey world the task of leading these fortified troops to success.

The first-time NHL general manager (who, by most accounts, resembles a seasoned veteran in the post already) has done his job.

Now, the onus is on the players to do theirs.

And this group should be more than capable.

The talent has been here in recent years. The outstanding individual seasons of Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos last year begin to tell that tale and the emergence of players such as Steve Downie and Mike Lundin only strengthens the point. What Vincent Lecavalier can bring to the table remains fresh in the minds of those who witnessed his most productive campaigns. There is an abundance of promise in a list of Lightning youngsters, led by defenseman Victor Hedman, that bodes well for both the present as well as the future. And what injuries have cost the likes of Ryan Malone up front, Mattias Ohlund on defense and Mike Smith in goal, to name a few, cannot be accurately measured.

But the returning group of core players now has what should be a better supporting cast than at any time during the OK Hockey era and a stable environment to boot. With the former, in theory, comes contribution in all aspects of the game from every forward line, from each defense pairing, from the backup goaltender and so on and so forth. The latter allows for no excuses.

Win hockey games, period.

Yzerman’s acquisitions have given the Lightning firepower in a top-six forward group of which most clubs can only dream (pick line combos out of a hat and, with Simon Gagne joining St. Louis, Downie and Malone as wingers to pair with Lecavalier and Stamkos, any end result should turn out just fine), a goaltending tandem in Smith and former Nashville Predator, Dan Ellis, ideally resulting in 1A/1B status and, finally, some competition afoot at training camp that should yield significant depth at all positions.

Sweeping change is often something to be leery of but, with a little luck, this new recipe for Tampa Bay’s success might actually produce the desired finished product in a playoff berth.

Of course, luck for this group will begin with avoiding the injury bug. Gagne, Malone, Ohlund and Smith are all tagged with question marks because of a hobbled history and recent word of a “minor” knee operation for Lecavalier didn’t exactly make Lightning Nation jump for joy. (The captain will be ready to go come camp, the team says, but skeptics will still wonder.)

Imagine briefly, however, that the names mentioned all stay healthy and produce at their best and all that could potentially fall into place here quickly comes into view.

Add in two of this summer’s most unheralded free agent signings in center Dominic Moore and winger Sean Bergenheim, the promise of an unproven commodity in Teddy Purcell, blue-collar workhorse Nate Thompson and wildcard Swedish imports Johan Harju and Niklas Persson and some of the forward depth starts to shine through. Ditto for the defense with once-and-again Bolt Pavel Kubina, veteran Brett Clark and a risk worth taking in Randy Jones, leaving an NHL-experienced Matt Smaby and the highly-regarded Matt Lashoff at the ready in a pinch.

And there’s no telling what kind of surprise training camp showing might come from one or more of Tampa’s emerging young prospects.

The talent is there.

You can bet the effort will be as well.

A few things fall into place here and there and the expected Lightning turnaround could truly be striking.

For now, though, while the wait for tangible results shrinks by the day, the “on paper” tag remains.

The “on-ice” measuring stick is only a few weeks away.

JJ on Twitter
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Filed in: NHL Teams, Tampa Bay Lightning, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: brett+clark, dan+ellis, dominic+moore, johan+harju, martin+st.+louis, matt+lashoff, matt+smaby, mattias+ohlund, mike+lundin, mike+smith, nate+thompson, niklas+persson, pavel+kubina, randy+jones, ryan+malone, sean+bergenheim, simon+gagne, simon+gagne, steve+downie, steve+yzerman, steven+stamkos, teddy+purcell, victor+hedman, vincent+lecavalier


SYF's avatar

I think you’re going to see a rejuvenated Lightning team in camp, JJ.  TBL is going to be a lot of fun to watch this year.

Posted by SYF from impossible and oddly communally possessive sluts on 08/27/10 at 12:09 AM ET

MOWingsfan19's avatar

I don’t expect instant success, but Stevie has paid his dues, taken notes and been the hardest working SOB around for a long time. Great to see the buzz around the team he’s taken over and starting to turn around.
There’s going to be a lot of Wings fans following this team vicariously.

Posted by MOWingsfan19 from I really like our team on 08/27/10 at 12:33 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

I think one of the biggest things that Yzerman has done for the Lightning (and equal or more credit should go to the Lightning’s new owner) is that the team now has a team concept, a direction so to speak.  Under the old guys, it just seemed like a collection of guys each doing whatever they thought was best.  I think Yzerman has focused the organization towards a common goal.

The changes made may not make an immediate impact, like MOWings said above, but this club has an identity now and I think that’s been lacking for some time.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 08/27/10 at 01:26 AM ET

EDJ's avatar

I think the reports that they posted pictures of Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup victory illustrates it best. The organization has purpose now. With a better group of players, and a better group around the players, and an expectation to win, I expect a show from the Lightning in the near future, if not this coming season.

Posted by EDJ on 08/27/10 at 03:44 AM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

SYF, I think a sense of relief will be what returning players first experience once they realize they’re starting a season with no distractions, no built-in excuses and some serious, legitimate talent in a franchise now led by a hockey legend and an adept managerial mind (new to the post or not). Then the rejuvenation kicks in. I expect a lot of smiles… At least before the grind of training camp begins to take it’s toll.

MOWingsfan19, you are not alone there. Since Yzerman’s hiring, I have heard from several Wings fans who have pledged their secondary allegiance to Tampa and countless others who have commented on how interesting the development of this team will be to watch. All good things for the franchise’s future.

J.J. (with the periods, of course), that’s just it. Before, they did have three different people (for a time anyway) pulling them in six different directions. Whether the players ever admitted it to be bothersome or not (they didn’t), it was. There’s no doubting that. Simply getting rid of that hinderance made this organization exponentially healthier. Adding the talent and depth that they have is gravy.

EDJ, what a simple concept, right? But what an ingenious move as well. Having been around the club the last few seasons, I remember thinking early on that there wasn’t a whole lot visible to commemorate one of the more thrilling moments in the history of Florida sports. “Sunbelt” hockey or not, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a championship history… And embracing that as much as possible, both in recognition of the accomplishment and to motivate the current crop of players, is a no-brainer.


Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 08/27/10 at 10:05 AM ET

landsharkhockey's avatar

I’m not ready to completely jump on the YzerBay Love Wagon just yet.  He’s made some solid decisions (I love the Gagne move), but I think he just overpaid for Downey.  Until the Lightning is back in the playoff picture, I’ll stay cautiously optimistic that this disastrous franchise may finally be turning things around.

Posted by landsharkhockey on 08/27/10 at 10:16 AM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

landsharkhockey, have you trademarked “YzerBay Love Wagon”? Because I LOVE that!

I can see where you’re coming from on Downie. He’s had one good season (albeit a VERY good season on a BAD team) and he is only a couple of seasons removed from the tail end of his history of discipline issues. So, yes, he may have overpaid a bit. Personally, I thought he would fall somewhere in the $1-$1.5 million range but salaries and finance are not the strong points of my coverage, admittedly.

I also agree, as I kind of eluded to in this piece, that there is no reason to plan the parade just yet, so to speak. On paper is on paper and, well, you know the rest…


Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 08/27/10 at 11:43 AM ET

HockeyTownTodd's avatar

There’s going to be a lot of Wings fans following this team vicariously.
Posted by MOWingsfan19

I re-upped my paysite subscription this week, primarily to not miss any TB games.

that there is no reason to plan the parade just yet, so to speak. On paper is on paper and, well, you know the rest…
Posted by Jon Jordan

Tampa Bay is a team in the Eastern Conference.

Posted by HockeyTownTodd on 08/27/10 at 02:21 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

Tampa Bay is a team in the Eastern Conference.

This, I cannot dispute, HockeyTownTodd!


Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 08/27/10 at 03:11 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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