The Tampa Bay Lightning are scheduled to open up training camp in Brandon on Saturday September 17 with very little intrigue or drama as far as the roster is concerned heading into the 2011-2012 hockey season. The team is primarily intact from one that lost in the Eastern Conference Finals in Game 7 to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, and they’ll be looking to build upon that strong result.
During the offseason, General Manager Steve Yzerman did more about keeping the pieces in place rather than making wholesale changes. The two biggest priorities for Yzerman were to lock up superstar Steven Stamkos and stud blue liner Eric Brewer on long-term deals, both of which he was able to accomplish.
Stamkos’ contract negotiations offered a great deal of fodder for the National and Canadian newspapers, as they tried to have the Lightning superstar signed in every major market other than back in Tampa. So with Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, and Hart Trophy Finalist Martin St. Louis, the Bolts have their core superstars locked up for the next three years together.
As training camps open up, Inside Hockey is going to offer a quick preview of what the team expects to look like as opening day approaches…
If Coach Guy Boucher continues the trend of using 11 forwards active for game days rather than 12 then most spots on the roster have already been filled. The top six will be made up of the core superstars Stamkos, Lecavalier, and St Louis to be filled in with stud playoff performer Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone and you have to believe that Steve Downie is going to get a long look early in the season with the top six forwards.
Last year it was the bottom six guys that provided the spark for this team as the team had some early season injuries which saw the likes of Dominic Moore and Nate Thompson step up and play major roles for this team last season. Those two guys will be counted on once again to duplicate their efforts this season to go along with newcomer Ryan Shannon signed to a free agent deal from Ottawa Senators.
Shannon has some big shoes to fill this season, as he’s slated to replace playoff surprise Sean Bergenheim, who signed a deal with the Florida Panthers as a free agent. The rest of the forwards will be filled out of a group Tom Pyatt, Dana Tyrell and Adam Hall. Hall and Tyrell were part of the “DNA” line last year with Thompson, which was a line that Boucher heaped high praise all year long. So you have to believe that he might want to continue that again this year.
The offseason did see the loss of Simon Gagne from the top six forwards, which was to be expected has he commanded a price that was just too high for the Bolts to fit under the cap.
Locking up Brewer was a key to the offseason for the team, as you could see the instant impact he made to the back line after he arrived at the trade deadline. Along with the other core group of defenseman Victor Hedman, Matthias Ohlund, Pavel Kubina, Brett Clark and Marc Andre Bergeron, this team has a solid group to go to battle with on the blue line.
The team said goodbye to Randy Jones and Mike Lundin, both of whom signed contracts elsewhere in the offseason.
To replace them, the Lightning traded for Bruno Gervais from the Islanders and signed Matt Gilroy as a free agent from the New York Rangers to round out the top eight guys on one-way contracts. There isn’t too much intrigue regarding which players will make the team, but it’ll be interesting to see how high Gilroy – a former Hobey Baker Trophy winner – can rise on the depth chart.
As the season opens, Dwayne Roloson will start the year as the oldest player in the NHL. Roloson was a stud in the playoffs last year and he will come into this season as the team’s clear-cut number one guy. Boucher biggest challenge will be to manage his season to make sure he fresh come playoff time.
To do this Yzerman brought in Mathieu Garon from the Columbus Blue Jackets to serve as the backup to Roloson this season. Garon is a steady vet goalie who is a perfect number two, as he will be to offer a steady presence in the net on those days when Roloson needs to take a couple of days off so he will be able to stay fresh for the Stanley Cup playoff run.
Stay tuned to Inside Hockey for the season preview and predictions, which will include a fantasy spin, for the upcoming year.