Tampa Bay Lightning 2013-14 Season Preview

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette
Sep 19 2013 Tampa FL USA Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette 31 is congratulated by forward Steven Stamkos 91 and defenseman Andrej Sustr 62 after a win against the Nashville Predators at Tampa Bay Times Forum Jeff Griffith USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning will begin a new era this season, and they will do it without long-time captain Vinny Lecavalier. When GM Steve Yzerman bought out the 33-year-old stars massive contract, he severed one of the final links between the current Bolts and the 2004 Stanley Cup Champions. Though Martin St. Louis still remains, the Steven Stamkos-led Lightning are now focused on future triumph rather than past glory.

Though Tampa was just one win away from the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, two postseason misses in as many years have demanded change.

The offense has certainly not been at fault for the team’s recent failures. Steven Stamkos is the most outstanding goal-scorer of this generation, and Martin St. Louis just shocked the hockey world by picking up his second Art Ross Trophy at the age of 38. St. Louis and Stamkos finished first and second in points as the focal points of the NHL’s third best offense.

Unfortunately for the Bolts, the three teams capable of matching their offensive output were the Blackhawks, Penguins and whoever was playing against them. Tampa Bay allowed 3.06 goals-against on an average night. That number is exactly equal to Tampa’s goals-for total, and it was also the fifth worst defensive average in the NHL.

Much of the blame for Tampa Bay’s sieve-like defense was heaped on netminder Anders Lindback. The 25-year-old Swede’s uninspiring play in net forced Yzerman to deal Calder Trophy candidate Cory Conacher and a fourth round pick to the Ottawa Senators for promising young goalie Ben Bishop.

Bishop’s role in Ottawa was minimized by the presence of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, but the move south has made him a full-time starter. The 26-year-old went 3-4-1 with Tampa late last season but his .917 save-percentage was markedly better than Lindback’s. If he can match the impressive numbers he posted in 12 starts for the Sens last season, then he should give the Lightning a significant boost.

Tampa’s defensive personnel is actually fairly decent. 2009 second overall pick Victor Hedman and 2006 Hobey Baker Award winner Matt Carle are both capable of providing solid top pairing minutes. However, their plus-one ratings from 2013 are somewhat deceptive. Sharing the ice with some lamp-lighting titans should be giving them prolific plus-minus ratings. Their current performance is not getting the job done.

While Carle has always been an offensively-focused player, the 6’6″ Hedman ought to be a shutdown defender at this stage in his career. The 22-year-old Swedish giant is still very young, but the four-year veteran was once seen as a future Norris contender. The Lightning won’t succeed unless Hedman finally maximizes his potential.

Sami Salo was Tampa’s best defender in 2013. The 39-year-old was practically the only dependable member of the corps, but he turned 39 on September 2. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Salo is likely to walk away next summer.

Rookie Radko Gudas will be a defender to watch moving forward. The 23-year-old Czech blue-liner was Tampa’s most physical defender in 22 appearances last season.

Of course Gudas will be overshadowed by fellow rookie Jonathan Drouin. Selected third overall in June, Drouin looks eerily similar to new teammate Martin St. Louis. Though he is three inches taller than St. Louis, Drouin has still been questioned for his lack of size. Were he 6’2″, he likely would have surpassed junior teammate Nathan MacKinnon as this year’s top prospect.

Drouin made use of his elite hands and vision to post an absurd 105 points in just 49 QMJHL games last winter. A very impressive showing at the World Junior Championships demonstrated his ability to compete against bigger more mature bodies. Though Tampa Bay neglected their defensive needs and passed on Seth Jones to draft the winger, they should be very happy with the return. Drouin is one of the most tantalizing offensive talents to come out of juniors in recent years, and he should be a Calder favorite heading into the season.

Valtteri Filppula will be the other big addition. The Finnish center will replace Lecavalier as Tampa’s second center. Though he has immense talent, he has been prone to underachieving. A 66 point campaign with Detroit in 2011-12 proved that he can play at an elite level. But a 2013 drop-off suggests that Filpulla is more of a 40-50 point player. He also will have a hard-time matching Lecavalier’s physicality at center ice.

Grouped into the so-called “Flortheast” with 2013 postseason teams Boston, Detroit, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, Tampa will have a very hard time getting back into the postseason this year.

Though Ben Bishop should help the Lightning break even in the goal-differential department, the Lightning are not yet balanced enough to tangle with the Atlantic Division’s heavyweights. They should beat up on Buffalo and Florida, but a top-four finish in their division is too much to ask.

The Lightning will once again light up the scoreboard, but true contention isn’t yet in the forecast. With Martin St. Louis and Sami Salo nearing 40, more turnover is in store over the next few seasons.

author avatar
Chris Blanchard
Chris Blanchard is a Boston, MA native and a student at Davidson College. He began writing about hockey as a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report in the fall of 2012. He has been covering the NHL for XN Sports since May of 2013. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');