2008-09 Recap: Dismal
The Lightning finished 2008-09 last in the Southeast Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference with a poor 24-40-18 record and 66 points.
They had four players that netted 20 or more goals and six players in total that had double-digit goals. Martin St. Louis (30 goals. 50 assists and 80 points) was a bright spot for the Bolts.
The offense was 25th in the NHL with 207 goals scored and the defense finished 27th in the NHL giving up 269 goals.
The power play was 19th in the league, scoring on 17.8 percent of their chances while the penalty kill was 26th in the league, killing off 78 percent while short handed.
Additions: Alex Tanguay (Montreal), Mattias Ohlund (Vancouver), Matt Walker (Chicago), Todd Fedoruk (Phoenix), Stephane Veilleux (Minnesota), David Hale (Phoenix), Antero Nittymaki (Philadelphia) and Kurtis Foster (Minnesota).
Subtractions: David Koci (Colorado), Richard Petoit (Chicago), Brandon Segal (Los Angeles), Noah Welch (Atlanta), Cory Murphy (New Jersey), Jason Ward (Philadelphia), Radim Vrbata (Phoenix), Wade Brookbank (Pittsburgh), Josef Melichar (HC Czech Budejovice) and Vinny Prospal (Contract Buy-Out).
The biggest question coming into this season is the goaltending. This question has been answered positively…so far. Mike Smith looks to be over his post concussion syndrome and has been solid in his four-preseason games, posting a 1.67 GAA and a .942 save percentage. He has survived being hit and run over and is no worse for the wear. Backup netminder Antero Niittymaki has been sharp and looks to be over the hip injury that bothered him last season.
Goaltending should be a strong suit for the Lightning this season, as long as the injury bug stays away.
The team’s top two lines are scary good. Vincent Lecavalier flanked by newcomer Alex Tanguay and Steve Downie will be a formidable group. Vinny looks to be in great shape and is poised to regain his position as a top five NHL forward. Free agent acquisition Alex Tanguay has skated well and will provide some much-needed scoring punch to the lineup. Winger Steve Downie has played inspiring hockey in the preseason. He has earned his shot and will be a solid physical presence on the first line. Can he control his emotions and keep his head right? Stay tuned.
Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone will skate together on the second line. Marty and Stammer have that “special something” between them and Ryan Malone is ready to have the best season of his career. Many fans are calling for Marty to play with Vinny on the first line. This may be warranted, given the fact that we know from past experience that they can be dynamic together, but coach Tocchet wants two solid scoring lines and is hesitant to separate Marty and Steven Stamkos after last seasons stretch of brilliance from them. Can you blame him?
The third line looks to be centered by veteran Jeff Halpern with young James Wright and Drew Miller at his side. This is where the Lightning offense takes a huge step down. It looks to me like gritty Halpern has finally lost a step and the young James Wright is a total wild card. Drew Miller will play well but is not someone that can carry this line.
The fourth line is a toss up, but based on last night’s game, it should be Zenon Konopka flanked by Todd Fedoruk and Stephane Veilleux.
Ryan Craig, Adam Hall and Brandon Bochenski were put on waivers today and Brett McLean was released.
I’m not going to get into last years numbers and man games lost to injury. Suffice it to say, the Lightning defense was nothing short of horrible. The Bolts blue liners can’t help but be better this season, can they? GM Brian Lawton has done an admirable job of bringing in key free agents to play with the number two overall pick Victor Hedman. Mattias Ohlund is a veteran that is tremendous at killing penalties and will provide great leadership for all the Bolts blue line corps. Kurtis Foster is a solid power play contributor with a cannon of a slap shot, but will need to be good five on five to remain an integral part of the team. Matt Walker brings his rough and tumble style of play to the Lightning. He is a solid stay at home type of defender. Having Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros healthy will make a huge difference for the Bolt defense.
The defensive pairings may end up different, but for now they look like this:
Mattias Ohlund-Victor Hedman
Paul Ranger-Matt Walker
Andrej Meszaros-Kurtis Foster
Two of the remaining five defensemen (Matt Lashoff, Matt Smaby, Mike Lundin, David Hale and Lukas Krajicek) will make the squad.
According to TBO.com’s Erik Erlenndsson: “General Manager Brian Lawton said on Saturday that some of the trade talk has picked up a little bit, and it’s no secret he would like to move Lukas Krajicek and his $1.475 million contract to another team since he obviously didn’t crack the top six, even though he has not had a bad training camp. If I were to venture a guess as to who the two defensemen who stay are, I would say Matt Smaby hangs around and perhaps Matt Lashoff. In my opinion, those are the two players who they would have to put through waivers that wouldn’t want to lose to another team. I don’t want to imply that David Hale or Mike Lundin are expendable, but the Smaby provides an element of toughness that outside of Matt Walker the team doesn’t have and Lashoff has too much of an upside to possibly lose him for nothing, plus even if they are able to sneak him to Norfolk on Tuesday, they could potentially lose him on re-entry waivers, which means he might be stuck down in Norfolk the whole season (although that might not be the worst thing in the world for his development especially since he is on a one-way deal next year.)”
The NHL requires that the final rosters be turned in by Wednesday. That leaves less than 48 hours for the Bolts brass to decide on the opening night team. Rick Tocchet and his staff need to give two more players the bad news to get down to the 23-player maximum.
The much-improved Lightning will finish third in the Southeast Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming season puckheads?
About the Author: WB Philp is a published hockey writer who has a built in disdain for Barry Melrose. He covered the Detroit sports teams for many years until he came to his senses and moved to the Sunshine State. He is a true puckhead on a mission from God (Gordie Howe) to make hockey relevant in the south. He lives in Hockey Bay USA and covers the Lightning full time. Did I mention he hates Barry Melrose?