Saturday, May 28, 2011

What's Next 2011: Tampa Bay Lightning

While it wasn't the Cinderella story we all thought it would be, the first year of the "new" look Lightning set the bar pretty high for next season. However, with the GM and coach tandem they have, this playoff was probably a warning for the rest of the East to look out for the revitalized Bolts.

The biggest question heading into the off-season is the goaltending. Dwayne Roloson is probably not going to be back, mostly due to his age and possible price tag after the playoffs he had. Yet, Mike Smith is also a UFA, which will be interesting to see how that negotiation goes with how he played in the Conference Finals. With two young goalies like Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus signed and ready to go, but are they ready to back-up Smith?? You can bet GM Steve Yzerman will shop the market for a decent back-up for Smith if they retain him.

Obviously, the big thing for Yzerman before that is locking up Steven Stamkos, who is a restricted free-agent and probably will get a nice long-term deal to stay around with Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier for the future. Granted, while Simon Gagne won't be back-- other role players like Sean Bergenheim and Teddy Purcell will be top priority for Yzerman over Gagne. The offense was very solid and they have plenty of firepower up and down the line-up; which should take pressure off the top-three guys. Plus, you have to look for James Wright and Carter Ashton to make a big push to get into the everyday line-up and even bump some of the role players.

On the blue-line, the core seems to be there with Victor Hedman, Mattias Ohlund, and Pavel Kubina will be back-- but what could be something to look at is whether or not Eric Brewer will be back with the team. Brewer won't light the score sheet on fire, but could be an invaluable defensive resource. There's not much on the horizon, so the free agent market should be solid for the Bolts to replenish what they may lose.

Regardless of what happens and whatever parts are actually in the line-up; Guy Boucher will be able to mold those guys into his kind of players and will be able to keep this solid run alive and build off of that. So long as the players buy-into it, they'll be fine. If they don't, then they may have a long-bumpy road to get to this spot again.

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