Bolts Buzz: 2011 Season Outlook for the Tampa Bay Lightning

By on January 11, 2011

The Tampa Bay Lightning has set franchise records this season with their play to start the season.  As good as they have played they are getting healthier as Steve Downie returns.  So the talent on this team continues to get deeper.

However a big move came down, GM Steve Yzerman was able to pull off a deal for veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders for a young defenseman Ty Wishart.  This move sets up the Bolts to be one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference heading into the New Year.

Bolts Buzz is going to give the Lightning its outlook as they head into 2011 and offer its end of year predictions.

Forwards:  Steven Stamkos and Marty St Louis have continued to amaze, not only everyone in Tampa but now everyone around the NHL.  This Bolts duo leads the league in combined points by teammates; Stamkos is second to only Sidney Crosby in the goal scoring race.

The team has two legit scoring lines now that Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne are healthy and if 20 goal scorer Steve Downie returns to form then this team will be to score with anyone in the league.

It’s the depth this team has now that is the reason this team is primed for a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year.  Its guys like Dana Tyrell, Adam Hall, Nate Thompson, the team’s DNA line along with Sean Bergenheim and Dominic Moore that is  going to be the reason this team has success.  They bring Coach Boucher’s system to life from the chalk board to the ice.  They set the tone night in and night out with their effort and energy.

The injuries this team has endured this season will end up being a good thing as it allowed those 3rd and 4th line guys to get a taste success by having to play different roles, so now when you slot them back where they should be it makes them even better.

Outlook:  Scary Good…could be as deep as any group of forwards in the Eastern Conference.

Defense:   Bolts defense has been in the top 2 or 3 all year in least shots against, even when the goaltending was suspect Coach Boucher never wavered on this group.  Victor Hedman is starting to blossom in front of our eyes.  Hedman is leading the group in ice time as a second year player, he is really starting to figure it out and coach is not afraid throw him out there in tight situations at the end of the game. So the rest of the league better look out when this kid starts to score a few more goals he will rocket up the charts for d-men in the NHL.

Hedman was highlighted but the group as a whole is just solid and steady in their play.  The group is smart and tough and always in the right place.  The new additions in the offseason of Brett Clark and the return of Pavel Kubina has given the team exactly what they figured, veteran guys that are a stabilizing force along with Mattias Ohlund on the blue line.  That influence has allowed not only Hedman to blossom but Mike Lundin as well is becoming a force in his own zone. 

Outlook:  Solid but not spectacular, what you see is what you get…

Goaltending:  It was figured in the offseason this team would only go as far as the goaltending was going to take them.  Dan Ellis was brought in as a free agent and incumbent Mike Smith both have played very well at times but at other times they have been inconsistent in making the key saves in games.  One goal in every game you look back and think it should have been stopped.

Mike Smith this year has a 10-5-0 record with 3.20 GAA,  .883 save %and Dan Ellis 11-7-5 3.13 GAA, .882 save % which ranks at or near the bottom of the NHL in goaltending this year.  Even with the improved play recently it’s just not consistent enough for the talent this team has in front of them.

So GM Steve Yzerman did not stand pat, he went and made a move to pick up veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders.  Roloson is the perfect guy for this team; I do not think you need a guy to stand on their head night after night for this team to win.  They just need a guy who understands the grind and makes the key saves in the game.  Roloson on Long Island was one of the few bright spots as he had a 2.64 GAA .916 save percentage so if he can duplicate those numbers in Tampa it could be mean a few more wins then what Ellis or Smith has brought so far this season. 

Still a question for the organization is which one of the two goalies will be heading out.  Both guys trade value has dipped so it will be interesting to see what Yzerman is able to get in return.  Mike Smith is a free agent at the end of the season and Ellis has one year left after this year at a very cap friendly price of around 1.5 million.  So the team may look to keep Ellis and move Smith if they are able to do so as Roloson is 41 years old.

Outlook:  Wait and see approach…

Other possible concerns:  There is still one concern monitoring as the team heads into the trade deadline in February; it’s the lack of a deterrent on the ice.  Teams have started to take liberties against the stars of this team and have been really physical with the Bolts.  So a blue print may have been established on how to play this team, be a big physical nasty team is the type of teams that will give the Lightning trouble in the playoffs.

It will be tough for the team to bring in a guy to fill that role however, as Coach Boucher roles 4 lines all game long and you have to be able to skate to get on the ice for this team.  So there frankly are not a lot of guys to choose from that could come in and be that policeman on the ice for this team. 

End of year prediction:  This season has a special feel and with the move in acquiring Roloson the organization feels it as well.  Team will end the Washington Capitals reign on the Southeast division and advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The season will come to an end, as the Penguins are just too big and physical.   As the team is constructed today that will give them problems.  I will temper this prediction that if Yzerman can bring in a physical presence then this team is more than talented enough to again hoist the Stanley Cup.

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