2013-14 record: 46-27-9
Acquisitions: Brenden Morrow, Matt Corrente, Evgeni Nabokov, Brian Boyle, Mike Blunden, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison
Departures: Ryan Malone, Tom Pyatt, Cedrick Desjardins, Anders Lindback, Mike Kostka, Keith Aulie, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Nate Thompson, Teddy Purcell, B.J. Crombeen
Top five fantasy players: Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Filppula, Victor Hedman, Jonathan Drouin
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: For the first time since 2000, Martin St-Louis won’t be at a Tampa Bay Lightning training camp. But after an off-season that featured serious wheeling and dealing from GM Steve Yzerman, the Bolts aren’t missing their former captain.
Ryan Callahan (the main component in the deal that sent St-Louis to the Rangers last season) signed a six-year contract extension. Veterans Brenden Morrow and Brian Boyle were brought in to add depth and experience at forward. And Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman were added to improve what already was an underrated D-corps. Add those players to the core Yzerman had in place – including superstar center Steven Stamkos, sophomore forwards Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn, rookie winger Jonathan Drouin, blossoming blueliner Victor Hedman and Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop – and you have the No. 1 contender to the Boston Bruins for the title of top team in the Eastern Conference.
Bust: Bishop has posted exactly one elite season in an NHL net, and there’s no assurance he can reproduce it. His backup last season (Anders Lindback) is gone and has been replaced by former Islanders and Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Bishop suffered an elbow injury late last season and had surgery in late April to repair torn ligaments in his right wrist. Should he struggle, the Lightning will have to lean on the 39-year-old Nabokov to an uncomfortable degree.
Bishop’s strong play also helped mask Tampa Bay’s less-than-ideal special teams – they had the league’s 13th-best power play (18.5 percent) and the seventh-worst penalty kill (80.7 percent) – and although their play with the man advantage will improve with a full season from Stamkos (who broke his leg in November and missed 45 games), the Lightning players and coach Jon Cooper will be playing with fire if they don’t shore things up on the defensive end.
Bottom Line: There’s a possibility Bishop doesn’t reprise last season’s excellence and Tampa Bay’s sophomores take a step backward, but Yzerman has assembled a fast, skilled squad with Father Time on their side – only three players (Morrow, Nabokov and Eric Brewer) are older than 30 – and one of the game’s most dynamic forces in Stamkos. They’re a playoff lock and now have the depth to be the East’s best team – in the regular and post-seasons.
Prospect To Watch: This was going to be Jonathan Drouin's year. The third overall pick of the 2013 draft was supposed to make the team out of camp and take a hard run at the Calder this season. He still might, but he's out for the next three-to-four weeks with a thumb injury so he'll be a late, and possibly slow, starter. But he will play in the NHL this season and is the youngster everyone will be watching in Tampa Bay this year. After the strong rookie performances from Palat and Johnson last season, another good season from a freshman would bode well for Tampa's present and future.
THN's Prediction: Second in Atlantic Division - Stanley Cup finalist
Contributors: Adam Proteau, Rory Boylen