The Tampa Bay Lightning entered 2011-12 hoping to build upon the momentum from their surprising 103-point performance of the previous season, in which they marched to within one game of reaching the 2011 Stanley Cup final.
Unfortunately, they finished last season with 19 fewer points, ending up 10th overall in the Eastern Conference and missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
Goaltending and blueline depth were the key factors in the Lightning’s downfall last season.
Age finally caught up with 40-something goalie Dwayne Roloson, winning only 13 of the 40 games he appeared in, with a bloated 3.66 GAA and a horrible .886 SP.
Backup Mathieu Garon got the bulk of the starts later in the season, but while his performance was better than Roloson’s (23-16-4, 2.85 GAA), it came too late to save the season.
The Lightning’s defense was the NHL’s worst (3.39 goals-against per game) and their penalty-kill ranked 26th overall.
While the goaltending woes were a significant factor, so too was the loss of veteran blueliner Mattias Ohlund to season-ending (and career-threatening) knee surgeries.
Critics of second year coach Guy Boucher suggested rival clubs had figured out how to thwart his 1-3-1 defensive system.
GM Steve Yzerman wasted little time this summer addressing his team’s problem areas.
He acquired promising netminder Anders Lindback in a June trade with the Nashville Predators, brought back defenseman Matt Carle via free agency, and signed former Canucks veteran Sami Salo.
Lindback, 24, has considerable potential, but saw only limited playing time in Nashville backing up Pekka Rinne. This will be his big break as an NHL starting goalie and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the workload and pressure.
Their defense could see further improvement if promising blueliner Victor Hedman maintains his steady development. It’s also hoped the late-season addition of Brian Lee, acquired from Ottawa, will pay off this season.
Offensively, the Lightning tied for eighth in goals-per-game, largely due to the 60-goal performance of Richard Trophy winner Steven Stamkos, who also led the club in points with 97.
After Stamkos, however, the offensive production dropped noticeably. Ageing left winger Martin St-Louis had 74 points, late-bloomer Teddy Purcell 65, slumping center Vincent Lecavalier only 49, and rugged left winger Ryan Malone 48.
Lack of offensive production beyond the Stamkos line was evident in a pop-gun power play that finished 25th overall.
The Lighting have some promising forwards – notably right wingers Brett Connolly and JT Brown, as well as left winger Cory Conacher – but it may be expecting too much of them to make significant offensive contributions this early in their careers.
Yzerman signed oft-travelled left winger Benoit Pouliot, but at this stage in his career, Pouliot’s no longer considered a forward with significant offensive upside. His addition – and that of right winger B.J. Crombeen – should provide depth to their checking lines.
If Yzerman decides to make any significant moves this season, it’ll likely be for a scoring forward.
The Lightning GM reportedly had some interest in free agent right winger Shane Doan in early-July, but Doan had no interest in coming to Tampa Bay and subsequently re-signed with the Phoenix Coyotes in September.
In early July, the Bolts were linked to right winger Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks, but as the summer progressed it was clear the Ducks had no intention of shopping him.
Salary cap space could hamper efforts to bolster the offense.
The Lightning presently have a little more than $63.246 million tied up in 23 players for this season. Any significant reduction in the salary cap ceiling during the first year of the new CBA could make it difficult to add a scorer.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.