Tampa Bay Lightning preview

Was there any team more entertaining this offseason than the Tampa Bay Lightning?

Probably not. The general manager treated like the team like a video gamer playing the dynasty version of NHL09 on PS3. You make a trade, play a few games, then make more trades and sign more players. Then play a few more games and repeat the cycle. At the end of the season, your whole team is totally different than what you started out with.

It’s been fun to watch, but now it’s time to see how the new team will translate on the ice, and if any chemistry will be instantaneous between all the new teammates.

Forwards: Who didn’t the Lightning try to sign in this offseason? They now have more players than an NFL franchise. They have a whole new set of lines thanks to their busy summer and some trade-deadline deals last season. What’s funny is that the team didn’t really need a massive overhaul. They were 16th in the league last year in goals for.

They still have Vincent Lecavalier as their number one player. He is arguably one of the top three players in the game. They also have Martin St. Louis, who has alternate good and bad seasons. He’s due for a massive year this season.

They also had the number one draft pick in the league, ready to centre the second line, in Steven Stamkos. It’ll be interesting to see what he does this season.

They also went out and got some veteran leadership in Gary Roberts. He’ll make sure no one takes a night off.

Defence: For some weird reason, they traded away Dan Boyle because they couldn’t afford his $6 million a year salary, and traded for Andrej Meszaros, and signed him to a $5 million a year contract. It doesn’t make much sense, but whatever. Meszaros will be the team’s top point man, so look for him to get a lot of time on the powerplay.

Matt Carle could also suprise some people. Coming to Tampa from San Jose in the Boyle trade, he could see a lot of ice time. Don’t be surprised if he gets 40-plus points this season.

Goaltending: Tampa Bay seems to follow the 1990s Philadelphia style when it comes to goaltenders. Instead of getting a great goalie that can put the team over the hump, they seem content to try stopgap measures and hope the rest of the team is good enough.

The number one goalie, Mike Smith, was great in Dallas, and good once he was traded to Tampa Bay last year in the Brad Richards trade. But good may not be enough once the playoffs come around. Most people are expecting the team to allow six goals a night, but mostly because of the defence. I don’t think it will be that bad, but all Smith has to do is be like Grant Fuhr with the Oilers in the 1980s: He can let in five goals a game, but he just needs to make the stop when it counts.

His backup is Olaf Kolzig, who should have retired three years ago.

Pool picks: If you need to take a defenceman in your pool, go for Andrej Meszaros. You could probably get him later, and this is a team bound to score. He’ll be on the ice for lots of those goals, and will get assists just because of it. Mark Recchi had a great year in Atlanta once he was traded from Pittsburgh last year, so I also expect him to score 60 points. Stay away from: Jussi Jokinen. He’s a good highlight reel when it comes to shootout goals, but they normally don’t count in hockey pools. His point totals have been declining every year since he entered the league.

Miscellaneous: A few of their signings (Kolzig, Roberts, Recchi) will be free agents next year, so we can all look forward to another crazy offseason from this team next year,

Expected finish: Second in the Southeast division, Eighth in the Eastern conference

Overall: Tampa is going to score a lot of goals. The may also let in a bunch, but this team will be much better than last year. They’ll also be more entertaining, which is important if they hope to draw more fans to games. Look for them to grab a playoff spot this year.

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