Out: Coach John Tortorella, GM Jay Feaster, Dan Boyle, Marc Denis, Andre Roy, Brad Lukowich, Doug Janik
In: Coach Barry Melrose, Head of Hockey Operations Brian Lawton, Vaclav Prospal, Matt Carle, Ryan Malone, Olaf Kolzig, Radim Vrbata, Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts
The new Tampa Bay Lightning ownership group, fronted by Hollywood producer Oren Koules and ex-NHLer Len Barrie, made so many roster moves this summer that it was tough to differentiate between this team and an episode of Deal or No Deal.
First, former ESPN commentator and ex-Los Angeles Kings head coach Barry Melrose was hired as the new bench boss. Next, Ryan Malone left his hometown of Pittsburgh to sign a long-term deal with the Bolts. Then, Olaf Kolzig was inked to come in and serve as Mike Smith’s back up. Veterans Vinny Prospal, Radim Vrbata, Mark Rechhi, and Gary Roberts also signed as free agents. Koules and Barrie then shipped Dan Boyle to San Jose for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart and draft picks. Oh yeah, Tampa Bay also signed Number-1 overall pick Steven Stamkos to a three-year entry level contract.
And, now there is speculation that the Lightning may be pursuing the services of free agent forward Mats Sundin.
The Lightning management group have addressed many of the concerns for a hockey club that finished dead last (30th) in the NHL last season but at what cost? The Lightning will be a better team this year but may still be years away from anything closely resembling the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2004.
The Lightning began shuffling their collection of forwards last February when they traded former Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards to Dallas in exchange for Jussi Jokinen. But nobody expected that Tampa Bay would add eight new forwards in what proved to be one of the craziest single free-agent off seasons in NHL history. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they did make some smart moves from a hockey perspective. Ryan Malone and Vinny Prospal are coming off stellar playoff performances while Radim Vrbata is an underrated scorer. Roberts, Recchi, Hall and Bochenski all fill important roles and instantly make this team experienced and balanced. Evgeny Artukhin comes back after a short exile in Russia and adds depth. When you consider that Tampa Bay has six forwards on its roster with 20 goals last season, it wouldn’t be outlandish to expect this group to score 300 goals.
Dan Boyle’s injury last season had such a detrimental effect on Tampa Bay’s fortunes that it was shocking to some that he was shipped to San Jose. Boyle logged No.1 defenseman minutes, excelled on the power play and was a steady force in his own end, even garnering Norris Trophy praise from some hockey insiders. So, how much of an impact will his departure make? This could be a difficult year for Lightning rearguards. Third-year pro Matt Carle, who was acquired in the Boyle deal, was benched repeatedly by Ron Wilson in San Jose last year and has confidence issues. And the rest of this defense is pretty average. Whitby, Ontario native Paul Ranger is big and skilled and is easily the best defenseman on this team but after that, there is much to be desired. Then again, maybe Andrej Meszaros, Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby and Shane O’Brien would disagree.
Mike Smith finally gets his big shot in the National Hockey League this year with the Bolts after spending the past two seasons as Marty Turco’s backup in Dallas. Smith is lanky and mobile and has drawn comparisons to Ron Hextall. He will be expected to play a different style of hockey this year which could hurt him in the statistical department. Don’t be surprised if Olaf Kolzig emerges as the number-1 goalie early in the season.
Ceiling: 2nd in East
Floor: 7th in East
The Lighting will win a lot of 6-5 games this year….