The air around the St. Pete Times Forum is different this year: it’s clear and confident.
As the Tampa Bay Lightning enter training camp, there is a quiet confident demeanor building within the team. Chests are standing out further than they have in years and the “P” word is being talked about within the entire organization. There is an expectation that this team will make the playoffs. You can already feel the influence that Steve Yzerman is having on this organization from the top down.
Yzerman played the game confident and prepared, you can feel that influence from the players as they talk about their own expectations coming into camp. There is also a building momentum within the community; the crowds at the training facility on Saturday morning were huge.
So what should everyone expect this team to look like when heading on the ice for the home opener against Atlanta? Let’s take a look ahead…
Head Coach Guy Boucher is going to get his chance to prove that he is the Next “Big Thing” in the NHL.
Boucher comes to camp this year as the most sought after coach in the offseason. He brings an up temp and high energy system to Tampa; but it’s his preparation and attention to detail that will lead to success for Boucher. He has gone so far as not to talk about his system in detail this offseason, he didn’t want to give his opposing coaches any jump start on how to defend his team. The stars for the team — Steven Stamkos, Marty St Louis and Vincent Lecavalier — have the most thankful for the addition of Boucher which should bring a player friendly system to the ice.
The Bolts’ offense should be very fun to watch going into the season. On paper they are as talented with their top six forwards as any team in the Eastern Conference. They have four guys who have scored 40 goals or in a season with Lecavalier, St Louis, Simon Gagne and last year’s Rocket Richard trophy winner Steven Stamkos (who tied for the award with Sidney Crosby with 51 goals). There are not too many teams in the league who can boast that kind fire power.
One of the areas that were affected most by Yzerman was on defense. Yzerman was able to rid the team of bad contracts and over all inconsistent play from defensiveman Andrej Meszaros and veteran Matt Walker. He replaced them with steady guys Pavel Kubina, who returns back to Tampa where he had his most success, and Brett Clark who comes over from Colorado. Both guys are good in their own zone and have some offensive skill as well. Victor Hedman, Mike Lundin and Matt Smaby should benefit greatly this year with the veteran presence of Kubina and Clark and Mattias Ohlund on the blueline.
As with most teams it’s goaltending that a team will live and die with on a nightly basis. The Lightning are no different.
This team has struggled finding consistency between the pipes since the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin. The Lightning hoped that Mike Smith was going to be the answer to the question, when he was acquired in the trade for Brad Richards. However, injuries and inconsistent play has stunted his growth the last year two years.
During the off-season Yzerman brought in Dan Ellis from the Nashville Predators, a good friend of Smith, to compete for the number one position in 2010. Whether its Ellis or Smith, one of those guys needs to step and grab the reins right from the start if the team wants to compete for a spot in the playoffs.
Battles in Camp
For a team that has been so pitiful the last few years there is a lot of talent and surprisingly not as many spots open for battles heading into camp. It is the bottom four wing positions that should be up for competition.
There is a mixture of vets along with a number of highly thought of young kids in the mix for those slots. The front runners should come from Adam Hall, former member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Eric Perrin, on the Stanley Cup team in 2004, along with this year’s number one pick Brett Connolly, who surprised a lot of people in prospect camp.
The Lightning should be in the playoffs this year and will battle the Washington Capitals for the Southeast Division title. Ellis is going to be the piece that brings this team together on the back end. I’m not sure that the Bolts can hoist the cup again, but making the playoffs in the first year for Yzerman would be considered a success in his first year at the helm.