2014-15 NHL team previews: Tampa Bay Lightning

2014-15 NHL team previews: Tampa Bay Lightning
August 24, 2014, 12:30 pm
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As part of our summer series previewing the 2014-15 NHL season, CSNwashington.com is analyzing all 30 NHL teams, division by division. Today we continue with the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.

Today: TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

2013-14 record: 46-27-9 (101 points)

Where they finished: 2nd in the Atlantic; 3rd in the East; 8th in the NHL

Coach: Jon Cooper (3rd season)

Key additions: RW Brenden Morrow, C Brian Boyle, D Jason Garrison, D Anton Stralman, G Evgeni Nabokov

Key subtractions: RW Teddy Purcell, C Nate Thompson, RW B.J. Crombeen, D Michael Kostka, D Keith Aulie, G Anders Lindback,

Projected Lineup

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Jonathan Drouin - Valtteri Filppula - Brett Connolly

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - Richard Panik

Extras: J.T. Brown, Mike Blunden

Defense

Victor Hedman - Matt Carle

Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman

Radko Gudas - Eric Brewer

Extras: Mark Barberio

Goaltenders

Ben Bishop - Evgeni Nabokov

Our take:  The Lightning finished with the third best record in the Eastern Conference last season despite a long list of injuries, distractions and potential excuses.

Consider that during their first full season under head coach Jon Cooper, the Lightning were without No.1 center Steven Stamkos for 45 games (broken leg), handled a trade request from the club's all-time scoring leader Martin St. Louis, and saw No.1 goalie Ben Bishop suffer a season-ending injury a week shy of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A large part of Tampa Bay's success last season can be traced to the play of their rookies- a total of eight NHL freshmen played in at least 43 games.

Ondrej Palat [23 goals, 59 points and a plus-32 rating in 81 games] and Tyler Johnson [24 goals, 50 points and a plus-23 rating in 82 games] were both Calder Trophy finalists as NHL Rookie of the Year and will again play key roles among Tampa Bay's top-9 forwards next season.

They are expected be joined next year by an early favorite to win the 2015 Calder Trophy in 19-year-old Jonathan Drouin.

The No.3 overall pick from the 2013 NHL Draft is known for his playmaking ability [79 assists and 108 points in 46 games last year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League] and could see power play and [potentially] even-strength time alongside Stamkos.

If not for Stamkos' injury, which kept him out from Nov.11-Mar.6, the Lightning captain likely would have captured his third career Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's goal-scoring leader.

Stamkos' 210 goals over the past five seasons are tops in the NHL over that stretch and seven more than Alex Ovechkin.

Stamkos, 24, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July 2016, but General Manager Steve Yzerman has done an admirable job in building a winning club in central Florida with hopes of retaining the face of the franchise long-term.

In the past five months alone, Yzerman has acquired former Rangers Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman as well as veteran forward Brenden Morrow, defenseman Jason Garrison and goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

Ben Bishops also returns to Tampa Bay after posting career-highs across the board last season with 37 wins (37-14-7), a 2.23 goals-against-average and .924 save percentage.

The Lightning have a tremendous mix of youth and experience both up front and on the back-end, and should compete with the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens for top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Will they make the playoffs in 2014-15? Yes, the Lightning will make the playoffs for a second straight season.

Milestone watch: Eric Brewer (965 games played) is 35 games shy of 1,000 for his NHL career... Steven Stamkos (426 career points) is 64 points shy of passing Brad Richards as the club's 3rd all-time leading scorer (behind only Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier).

Against the Capitals: Sat. Nov. 1 at Tampa Bay; Tue. Dec.9 at Tampa Bay; Sat. Dec.13 at Washington