The Tampa Bay Lighting have come a long way from getting swept in last year’s playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens. This team is only going to get better every year. Steve Yzerman has done an outstanding job turning this team into a huge cup contender each year.
New Coach, New Mentality
On March 25th 2013, Tampa Bay announced that their eighth coach in franchise history would be Jon Cooper. What did this mean for the Lightning? For starters, Cooper would opt in favor of a more offensive system; as opposed to ex head coach Guy Boucher’s defensive based system. It is obvious that with all the weapons on the Lightning’s roster, an offensive minded coach would be the perfect fit. Cooper is also working with a very young cast (25 year old average), stacked with talent. In his first season as head coach he was nominated for the Jack Adams trophy; awarded to the coach who has contributed the most in his team’s success. With Cooper behind the bench, the Lightning will keep progressing and working their way to the top.
Out With The Old
Yzerman has done a fantastic job making this team younger. One of the more notable moves was buying out Vincent Lecavalier’s contract, which at the time was costing them 7 million a year until 2019-2020. Lecavalier then became an unrestricted free agent and chose to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers for 5 years; a contract worth $22.5 million. Buying out Lecavalier gave lead to Steven Stamkos, a prolific goal scorer who only got better as the seasons passed. Yzerman’s next move was another huge one, trading away Lightning veteran Martin St-Louis to the New-York Rangers for their captain Ryan Callahan, a 2015 first-round pick and a conditional 2014 second-round pick. That second-round pick became a first round-pick once the Rangers made it to the conference final in the playoffs last year. Steven Stamkos was named Tampa Bay’s tenth captain in franchise history following the St-Louis trade. Another notable transaction by Yzerman was in 2013, acquiring their #1 goalie Ben Bishop from the Ottawa Senators for Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick.
Funny thing about the trade is the fact that Ben Bishop has more points than Cory Conacher during the regular season. These moves were only the beginning of Tampa Bay’s rise.
Youth Youth Youth
This has been said so much during the season, the youth of the Tampa Bay Lightning is simply remarkable. Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jonathan Drouin, Cédric Paquette, J.T. Brown, Victor Hedman, Andrej Sustr and of course their fantastic goalie prospects in Andrei Vasilevsky and Kristers Gudlevskis. In addition, the Lightning have a few notable prospects like Adam Erne, Anthony DeAngelo, Brayden Point, etc. All these players will form a core which will continue to develop and mature for many years.
One of the extraordinary stories of this season and post-season is Tyler Johnson. A 5’9″ undrafted player who had an incredible breakout season. With 72 points in 77 games, Johnson has established himself as a very solid NHL center. With 13 goals and 22 points in 22 games this post-season, Johnson has made his presence felt. Not only do teams need to worry about 40-goal scorer Steven Stamkos, they need to worry about the line referred to as the “Triplets”. Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov have also been contributing for Johnson’s success, the combination of speed and skill is very lethal and the chemistry they have is simply icing on the cake. The only thing that could be a potential problem for the Lightning would be the need to resign some key parts to the team in a few years.
Under the radar
One the most underrated players on that squad is their top defenseman, Victor Hedman. Only 24 years old, Hedman has established himself as a very reliable two-way defenseman with tremendous size and surprisingly good speed. He only played 59 games due to injury, but a healthy Hedman would have given the PHWA something to think about when they chose the Norris Trophy finalists.
He is often shadowed by the likes of Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban and many more defenseman, but Hedman should be getting much more credit. He has yet to hit his prime, but in a few years the Swedish defender should be a Norris Trophy winner if he can keep up his great play and manage to stay healthy.
The future is definitely looking good for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a young cast with many talented players, a head coach that knows how to use that talent inside a system and a smart general manager who knows a lot about winning.
Brandon Murphy – @2Murphy8