by John Fontana, Ashonice
1. Roster consistency.
There was little to no roster turnover from the 2014-15 season, which should be seen as an asset to team chemistry. The club was already getting sound production from its young forward group (who still have room to grow), and the solid veteran group rounds them out nicely.
2. Quality organizational depth.
To coincide with a potent roster at the NHL level, the Lightning’s AHL club in Syracuse is stocked with high quality talent including former first-round draft selections Anthony DeAngelo and Slater Koekkoek. There are also a glut of minor league veterans (Jonathan Marchassault, Mike Angelidis and Matt Taormina) ready to step in if need be. Marchassault is an example of fully capable NHL depth that could be seized if he is waived to the AHL.
The age of the enforcer and goon is over in the NHL, and skill and ability reigns. Instead of fisticuffs being the topping skill, it’s deftness and speed, which you find in bucket loads among the Bolts forward corps from the top down.
by John Fontana, Ashonice
1. Inexperienced goalie depth.
Before training camp got underway, Tampa Bay was going to rely on 2012 first-round draft choice Andrei Vasilevskiy as the backup to Ben Bishop in net. Vasilevskiy had only made his NHL debut last season ... and was lost to a blood clot operation before training camp.
Ray Emery was brought in on a professional tryout, but was ultimately cut. Tampa Bay’s depth after Bishop features only a combined 31 NHL games in experience -- Vasilevskiy (6), Kristers Gudlevskis (1), Allen York (14), Adam Wilcox (0). If the club loses Bishop in the early part of the season while Vasilevskiy remains on the shelf, it could turn into a serious issue.
2. Salary cap space.
The Lightning are built well, but it comes with the caveat of being very tight to the cap. That could create difficulties with player acquisitions (by way of how little salary the club is able to take on) before or on the NHL’s Feb. 29 trade deadline.
3. The power play.
The one place change was made in the 2015 offseason without much fanfare was the dismissal of George Gwozdecky as an assistant coach. He had been in charge of the Bolts' power play the last two seasons. While the club’s conversion rate was 18.5 percent in 2013-14 and 18.8 percent last season, the players too often looked lost or out of position.
Head coach Jon Cooper is said to be taking over power play coaching duties in full this season. Despite the club’s general speed and potency at five-on-five, it remains to be seen if they can leverage the man-advantage to a level that reflects the club's abilities.
1. Will Ben Bishop once again be the workhorse goaltender, or will there be a sounder tandem that relives him of pressure?
2. Will the power play shine for the Bolts or will another middling effort be the result?
3. Will Andrej Sustr step up on defense or will the club finally give up on him?
Get the answers at Raw Charge.
BEST CASE SCENARIO
by John Fontana
The Lightning were two wins short of a Stanley Cup title in the 2015 playoffs. The best case situation for the club is to remain a competitive constant compared to last season and to repeat… and get those two extra victories.
There are individual player best cases, like Jonathan Drouin coming into his own and Victor Hedman being a Norris Trophy candidate, but the biggest best case is that the Lightning in general remain a competitive and productive constant.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
by John Fontana
"Stanley Cup or Bust" isn’t a benchmark to be encouraged, and getting lost in that sentiment is part of the worst case scenario of the season -- expectations marring it. The sideshow element of Steven Stamkos’ contract negotiations are also part of a worst case scenario -- if talks distract or, even worse, if they collapse and lead to the upheaval a trade would bring. Also, if Jonathan Drouin doesn’t live up to his expectations again and coaching is once again vilified as it was during the playoffs (as it was when a conflict supposedly took place between Drouin and Jon Cooper).