2009 NHL Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

We’ve partnered with On Goal Analysis to bring you a team-by-team preview of the upcoming NHL season. (Just scroll down on the OGA website and hit the calendar.) Here is the preview for the Tampa Bay Lightning…

Team Play: ISSUE – Upgrading… There has been a great bit of transformation with the freedom Brian Lawton has received to retool this team over the summer. That change is most likely to produce improved results on the ice this season.

The notes from training camp indicate a No. 1 line of Tanguay–Lecavalier–Downie/Veilleux from left to right, and Malone–Stamkos–St.Louis in the No. 2 position. That’s right, there’s a RW problem in No. 1 line. The Steve Downie experiment initially didn’t work but has now come back around full circle to try out again. The inability to find the RW and stick with somebody has disrupted their performance and has produced from all parties a total of 2 G’s and 7 A’s (with no points for Veilleux) and a return of Carter Ashton to Lethbridge of the WHL. Could Martin St. Louis slip back over there again? The issue would then be one of busting up the Malone-Stamkos-St.Louis line that has clicked very well as their 7 G’s and 4 A’s in pre-season attest. Once the Lightning gets these combos down, the Southeast Division will see a team coming at them with a top two pairing that is cause for alarm.

The top two pairings listed on defense according to Fox Sports’ depth charts are Ohlund-Hedman and Ranger-Krajicek. In those four blue liners, you are looking at an average of 25-30 points per man if last season projected to 82 games is any kind of indicator of their 2009/10 output. Of note is that from that top four, Coach Tocchet cannot say enough good things of No. 1 draft choice Victor Hedman. After those four, Mezaros and Walker are projected on line No. 3, but Kurtis Foster is leading defensive scoring in the pre-season with 1 G and 3 A’s making it a difficult decision not to keep him in the mix. (Coach Tocchet has indicated there is a ‘logjam’ at the defensive position and he is not kidding – besides the top seven mentioned above are Lashoff, Smaby and Wishart. Suffice it to say there will be no lack of defense back on the farm.) Lightning GM Lawton made his most strides in this area of the ice over the summer. Good blue line health this season is a must for solidifying this corps and stabilizing the team.

Click here to read the rest of the preview (which includes the site’s unique Playoff Qualifying Curve and fantasy information) at the On Goal Analysis site.

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Scott Hartnell with a different kind of glove save

Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers got a little creative during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning:

I’d love to hear what Martin Biron (the Flyers’ goalie) said to Hartnell in the locker room after the game:

“Hey dude, I have enough trouble trying to stop a little black, rubber object flying at me at 100 miles per hour. Could you not throw your f&^king glove at me, too?”

Tampa Bay is no longer Melrose’s place

A coaching change that occurred over the weekend that made me scratch my head. The Tampa Bay Lightning fired Barry Melrose after only four months on the job and replaced him on an interim basis with Rick Tocchet.

Last summer, the franchise was purchased by a Hollywood movie management group last summer that gained success by producing the Saw franchise. Their main acquisition of the off-season was hiring Melrose to lead the team back into Stanley Cup contention, but the Lightning have been plagued by inconsistent and lackluster play all season.

In his press release, Lightning general manager Brian Lawton felt a coaching change was needed due to concerns about what direction the team was headed under Melrose. The team is built with an explosive offense featuring high-scoring forwards but have netted a league-worst 33 goals thus far this season and are currently floundering in 13th place of a 15-team Eastern Conference. Also, Lawton was displeased with the lack of playing time given to the league’s 2008 #1-overall draft choice Steven Stamkos, who was averaging a little over 11 minutes of ice-time under Melrose and was recently taken off the power-play unit. Still, to be judged after 16 games is a harsh reality for a new coach, as Melrose had to implement a new system and integrate 14 new players into the lineup.

Tocchet is a former NHL player with over 400 goals and a well-respected assistant coach with prior stops in Colorado and Phoenix. Lawton praised his approach to teaching hockey in a very structured and organized manner. But Tocchet does come with some baggage; he pleaded guilty to running a sports gambling ring in 2007.

Lawton wants to meet with the players to give them a direct explanation on the coaching change and discuss the future direction of the team’s management group.

Shocker: ESPN analysts predict Barry Melrose for NHL COY

Tampa Bay LightningESPN.com doled out their predictions for the 2008-09 NHL Season and here’s a shocker, two of the network/sites analyst have Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Barry Melrose as Coach of the Year. Think the 13-years Melrose spent as a hockey insider on ESPN have anything to do with that?

Granted, Melrose did lead the Los Angeles Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, but he hasn’t coached in just over 10 years. And it’s not like he’s going to a team with huge upside, although the Lightning do have a ton of future potential with the drafting of 18-year old center Steven Stamkos.

Melrose inherits a solid offensive club, but he better hope his defense and goal tending situations improve or it won’t matter how many goals his offense produces.

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