The Tampa Bay Lightning had one of the best goalies in the league last season in Ben Bishop. He went 37-14-7, had a 2.23 goals against average and was a Vezina Trophy finalist. In fact, if he didn’t get injured Tampa probably wouldn’t have been swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. The Lightning awarded Bishop for his fine play last season with a two year contract extension worth $5.95 million a year that signs him through the 2016-17 season. The Bishop extension is just one of the many offseason moves by the Lightning that have improved their team and possibly made them one of the best in the Eastern Conference.
Tampa finished with the third most points in the East and the second most in the Atlantic Division (six behind the President’s Trophy winning Boston Bruins), but were bounced early in the playoffs in large part due to Bishop’s injury. The Lightning were able to be one of the best teams in the East behind one of the most dangerous offenses. Behind Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula and rookies Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay had the ninth most goals for per game in the league at 2.83 and the seventh best five on five goals for/goals against ratio at 1.16. Couple that with the fantastic goaltending of Bishop, it’s no wonder the Lightning ended up being one of the best teams in the league.
But even with such a successful regular season there was room for improvement on this Lightning team, and they have made a few signings in order to make that happen. Aside from resigning Ryan Callahan, who they acquired from the New York Rangers in the deal for Martin St. Louis, they also picked up now former Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman (five years, $4.5 million per year) and center Brain Boyle in free agency. Callahan, Stralman and Boyle were all instrumental in providing the Rangers with a stellar penalty kill. For a Lightning team that was eighth worst in the league at 80.7 percent success in killing penalties, the additions of Boyle and Stralman rejoining Callahan will improve one of the weaker points on Tampa’s team. The addition of Stralman will also give the Lightning a young, reliable, hard-nosed defenseman that can improve their core, while Boyle provides some height and a big body that can block shots on the third or fourth line.
The Lightning also made some solid additions with the acquisition of winger Brendan Morrow from the St. Louis Blues and Evgeni Nabakov from the New York Islanders both for one year, $1.55 million deals. These one year deals and potentially quick fixes could prove to be very beneficial for the Lighting next season. Morrow had 13 goals and 25 points with the Blues and could prove to be a very valuable third line scoring winger, while Nabakov could potentially thrive in a backup role behind Bishop, giving them a better option than Anders Lindback was in the event that Bishop gets injured again. And if Morrow and Nabakov end up panning out for the Lightning, they can always end up resigning them at the end of the season to longer deals.
And with all of the talent in the NHL currently, it’s scary to think that there’s even more talent waiting in the farm system. Jonathan Drouin, the Lightning’s nineteen year-old first round pick from two years ago, had 108 points in 46 games played for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL and scored nine points in seven games for Canada’s under 20 team at the U20 World Junior Championship.
The Lighting have a top player in the league in Stamkos, role players in Callahan, Boyle and Stralman, a Vezina-potential goalie in Bishop and youthful talent in Johnson, Palat and Drouin. Combine that with the additions of Nabakov and Morrow and others like Alexander Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Matt Carle, Victor Hedman and Jason Garrison and the Lightning have all the makings of a force to be reckoned with this season and beyond.