Atlantic Division 2014-15 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning
COACH: Jon Cooper
2013-14 RECORD: 46-27-9, 101 points (second in Atlantic; lost to Canadiens, 4-0, in first round)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.93 goals-for per game (8th), 2.62 goals-against per game (11th), 18.52 power play pct. (13th), 80.74 penalty kill pct. (23rd); shootout record: 8-6 (7th)
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: D Keith Aulie, G Anders Lindback
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Ondrej Palat — Steven Stamkos — Ryan Callahan
Jonathan Drouin — Valtteri Filppula — Richard Panik
Alex Killorn — Tyler Johnson — Nikita Kucherov
Brenden Morrow — Brian Boyle — J.T. Brown
OUTLOOK: The fact that Tampa Bay finished second in their division with Steven Stamkos out for more than half of the season bodes very well for the 2014-15 campaign, and the team is out to prove that it can make a deep playoff run. With their elite sniper healthy and back in form, the Bolts promise a high-power offense that should rank among the league's best. Calder Trophy runner-up Ondrej Palat produced 59 points last season and will have an opportunity to take a step forward during the Lightning's first full season of the post-Martin St. Louis era. Tyler Johnson, so good in Stamkos' absence, slips back on the depth chart to key a very promising third line. Winger Jonathan Drouin, the third pick in the 2013 draft and a preseason Calder favorite, is coming off a season in which he scored 108 points in 46 games with Halifax of the QMJHL. A fractured thumb will keep him out for the season’s first few weeks, but he’ll be expected to produce once he returns. Tampa Bay also strengthened its defense by signing Anton Stralman from the Rangers and trading for the Canucks’ Jason Garrison, whose presence should take some power play pressure off Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman. Reuniting Brian Boyle with his former Rangers teammate (and PK partner) Ryan Callahan will improve a penalty killing unit that ranked 23rd in the league last season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ben Bishop
Bishop's breakthrough season earned him consideration as a Vezina finalist, but late-season wrist and elbow injuries ruined his party, keeping him out of the playoffs and effectively ending Tampa Bay's postseason chances. He admitted recently that his wrist is not yet fully healed, and while he hopes to be 100 percent by opening night, it could be a lingering concern. The Bolts have proved they can survive without Stamkos. They're dead in the water without Bishop.
PREDICTION: 99 points, third in Atlantic