Here it is, mere hours before the puck
is dropped on the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2015-16 season, and I haven't
written a proper season preview. Well guess what, I'm still not
going to write a “proper” preview, because there are plenty
already out there for you to read. Besides, I'm horrible at
predictions. Let's say the Lightning are going to finish somewhere in
the top 8 in the Eastern Conference and they will be eliminated in
the second round of the playoffs.
Now that we got that out of the way, he
is what I'm going to give to you, my loyal readers. A bunch of
questions that I am literally thinking up as I'm typing. See you
don't have to do outlines or actually think of layout and all of that
stuff to be a writer. Just make it up as you go along. Let's get
Will a member of the Lightning win
a major award?
Not bloody likely. I think Victor
Hedman (Norris) and Steven Stamkos (Rocket Richard) have the best
shots, but I wouldn't lay money on either one of them. Hedman is
always going to be an underdog as long as Duncan Keith (traditional
defenseman) is playing 45 minutes a game and Erik Karlson
(high-scoring defenseman) is leading Ottawa in scoring. Also, Hedman
(did you know Olof is one of his middle names?) has that annoying
habit of getting hurt just as he's starting to find he groove. I do
think he will win one in the future (after all he's only 24 years
Speaking of people still in their
mid-20s, Steven Stamkos is in a contract year. Not sure if you've
heard about that or not. Superstar players in their contract years
have a tendency of producing, at least they did before teams got into
the annoying habit of signing their stars to long term deals well
before they had a chance to test the free agent market.
Stamkos scored 43 goals last season. In
every season that's he's played 82 games he's scored at least 40
goals with the 60 he scored in 2011-12 being his high water mark.
Based on what we've seen in the pre-season it looks like he will have
to adjust to a new linemate. Luckily that linemate seems to be pretty
talented at passing the puck. Having fully recovered from the broken
leg suffered a few seasons ago in Boston, look for the former Sarnia
Sting forward to challenge the 50 goal mark this season.
With no rookies starting the season on
the active roster, it appears Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel don't
have to worry about anyone from Tampa challenging them for the
Will Jonathan Drouin score more
points than Johnny Gaudreau?
Remember that talented linemate for
Stamkos that I just mentioned. His name is Jonathan (call him Jo)
Drouin. Drouin spent most of last season mired on Brian Boyle's line
as he learned the boring art of two-way hockey. Even though most of
his13 minutes spent on the ice every game was spent not being amazing
he managed to rack up a respectable 32 points.
This season it looks like he's going to
get the chance to skate with Stamkos and either Alex Killorn (15
goals) or Ryan Callahan (24 goals). That is going to give him a
tremendous opportunity to pile up the points, defense be damned.
Well, ok, not damned. Because if that happens he's back on the bench,
Coach Cooper does demand a bit of responsibility on the ice. Still,
if there was an award for best 2nd year player I'd lay my
money on Drouin.
He's already made a lot of the
“breakout stars” lists that have been floating around the
internet. Which is much better to read than, “Are the Lightning
going to trade Drouin?” Whatever was the fatal flaw that kept him
out of playoff games last season seems to have been corrected based
on his playing time so far in the pre-season. Of course, Coach
Cooper could have just been messing with us and Drouin will start
game one with Boyle and Erik Condra (per Erik Erlendsson Drouin was
skating with Stamkos and Callahan). Which would still be an
improvement over Boyle and the skating corpse of Brenden Morrow.
By the way, when I started typing this
question I really thought Gaudreau or Filip Forsberg won the Calder
trophy last year. Totally forgot that it was Aaron Ekblad. As for
“Johnny Hockey” I think he's primed for a bit of regression as
the league gets wise to Calgary this season.
Will Kevin Poulin get more wins in
a Lightning uniform than Evgeni Nabokov?
Sweet Jesus I hope not. Nabokov,
signed as a veteran influence and back up goalie, appeared in 11
games and won 3 of them before being put on waivers and traded for
future considerations to San Jose in February. Part of the reason he
was let go was because it was obvious he just couldn't cut it as a
NHL goalie at that stage in his life. Also, there was a young
prospect by the name of Andrei Vasilevskiy waiting in the wings.
Vasya proved that he could hold down
the net on a part time basis over the second half of the year. So I'm
sure it was with great relief that General Manager Steve Yzerman
started the off-season without having to look through the bargain bin
sales for a back-up goalie. Unfortunately in August, Vasilevskiy's
blood cells got too chummy with each other and he had to have surgery
to remove blood clots in his shoulder. That procedure has him
sidelined until at least early November.
Mr. Yzerman went into scramble mode and
signed Ray Emery to a camp tryout, where he didn't actually play that
bad from what I read. However, instead of signing the veteran, Mr.
Yzerman cut him and traded for Poulin. Now the former New York
Islander (who once beat the Lightning 2-1 in a shootout back in 2014)
will back up Ben Bishop as the season gets under way.
Bishop is a bit of a workhorse having
played in 63 and 62 games in each of the two seasons he's been the
starter for the Lightning. The Lightning do have two back-to-back
games schedule in October (12th and 13th and
23rd and 24th) so look for Poulin to have at
least two starts this month. Should Vasya continue to heal in an
appropriate manner, the most starts I could see Poulin getting would
Of course, this is assuming Bishop
stays healthy. The big netminder (who is only 4 wins away from taking
over the all-time franchise lead) suffered through an injury during
the Stanley Cup Finals last spring. If he were to re-injure his
groin, or suffer a new malady, things could go off the rails quickly
for the Lightning. If that were to happen, Poulin would probably
split time with Kristers Gudlevskis until Vasilevskiy is healthy.
Will anyone other than Bishop take
over the all-time franchise lead in any major stat category?
There is a decent chance that at the
end of the season Bishop will be able to lay claim to the title of
Greatest Goalie in Lightning history as he has a shot at the wins,
shut-outs, goals against and save percentage categories. On the
offensive side, it looks like Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis
Stamkos trails Lecavalier by 107 goals
and 455 points so I don't think he's nicking those leads anytime
soon. A strong season on the power play may get him on top of that
chart as he only trails Vinny by 8 power play goals.
Will The Triplets spend the entire
season together as a line?
The knee-jerk reactions to this is, “Of
course not. Are you high?” Let me tell you that I am not under the
influence of anything stronger than beer (my one and only Southern
Tier Pumking of the year. I tend to like the Christmasy beers more
than the pumpkin beers).
In all likelihood Tyler Johnson, Ondrej
Palat and MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV! will stay together as much as
possible for the season. However, should the offense struggle at any
point during the season I wouldn't be surprised to see Coach Cooper
shuffle things around. With Drouin looking to take on a bigger role
with the offense that drops some very talented people down to the
Per Erik Erlendsson Alex Killorn is
skating with Valteri Filppula and newcomer Erik Condra in the
pre-game rushes for Thursday. Killorn spent most of last season on
Stamkos' line and Filppula has the talent to skate on the top two
lines as well. That's a lot of pieces to shuffle around.
Should something stagnate or MBNK
doesn't score on 15% of his shots, would Coach Cooper be tempted to
try Drouin with Johnson or Filppula with Palat to shake things up?
Long time Lightning fans might remember the endless flip-flopping of
St. Louis between Lecavalier's line and Brad Richards line or between
Lecavalier and Stamkos despite the success Lecavalier had with Marty.
And let's not forget to factor in the
injury situation. Tyler Johnson played a good portion of the Finals
with a broken wrist. While he claims to be 100% ready to go, wrist
injuries (along with back and foot) tend to linger a bit longer.
Again for an example see Vincent Lecavalier. If he is bothered by the
wrist and needs to miss anytime then does Coach Cooper blow the whole
line up or just slot Filppula or Vlad Namestnikov* into his place?
So, there are five things I'll be
watching over the next six months. Who knows, at the end of the
season I might even come back and revisit some of these questions to
see what actually happened.
I think Montreal win the Eastern
Conference and loses to Anaheim in the Finals.
Conner McDavid wins the Calder and
keeps Edmonton in contention for a playoff spot until late in the
Phil Kessel scores 35 goals, finds
chemistry with Evgeni Malkin forcing the Penguins to find yet another
winger for Sidney Crosby. At the deadline they trade their first
round pick to Arizona for Shane Doan.
Buffalo and Florida fight for the 8th
spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs with Buffalo edging out the
Panthers on the last day of the season.
Patrick Kane settles out of court and
is eventually suspended for 4 games for unspecified conduct that is
“detrimental to the team/league”. The Hawks make it to the
Western Conference finals.
Las Vegas is awarded an NHL franchise.
It is announced at the Winter Classic. The Panthers, despite their
success, are bought by Quebecor and moved to Quebec.
Some friends' predictions:
Washington beats Chicago in the Stanley
Pittsburgh, Nashville and St. Louis all
miss the playoffs (for a Penguins fan he never thinks they're good –
and that includes the year they won the Stanley Cup)
P.K. Subban wins the Norris and Ryan
Johanssen is league MVP.
Superstar Sean –
Hawks will be better than people think
(he's having trouble focusing on hockey with the Cubs still in the
playoffs. If he survives the postseason we may check back with him)
Ducks vs. Penguins in Stanley Cup
Finals. He is also living the Cubs dream.
Anyone else care to make some
* One of the most annoying things about
typing on a new computer is that all of the spellings of names that I
have saved to the dictionary have disappeared. Less Russians and
more John Smiths please Mr. Yzerman.