The Southeast Division will be home to the two most powerful offenses this upcoming season. We know one is Washington, but the other is the Steve Yzerman-led Tampa Bay Lightning. In a few short months, the rookie general manager has taken the 24th best offense and morphed it into one of the strongest, at least on paper. Yzerman has been the best GM this off-season, but that discussion deserves its own article.
It is pretty tough to imagine a 24th ranked offense all of a sudden becoming a dominant force, but that is exactly what Yzerman’s moves may have done. Yzerman has made a name for himself by completely robbing Philadelphia making some savvy moves. He kicked off the free agency period by dumping some dead weight in Andres Meszaros and quickly followed with the excellent signing of Pavel Kubina. Kubina miraculously tallied 38 points while playing with the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that could barely compete in the AHL.
After quickly improving his team, Yzerman didn’t sit tight and brought in Simon Gagne in another trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. Gagne, when healthy, is a top three forward on almost any team in the NHL. Gagne instantly adds another 30 goal threat to an already potent top two lines. The addition of Gagne gives Tampa arguably the best top six in the NHL. Washington has Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom, but Tampa counters with Steve Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Simon Gagne. Could we even see an upset in the Southeast? Again, another discussion for another day.
These three moves will pay huge dividends this season and every fantasy GM should take notice. While we aren’t quite positive how the top six will shake out, the Lighting can choose from Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, Gagne, Ryan Malone, and, likely, Steve Downie. All six have 30 goal potential and before you dismiss Downie, he netted 22 goals last season and is only 23. Beyond the top six, the Lightning also offer two defensemen with strong puck moving capabilities, the aforementioned Kubina and sophomore stud Victor Hedman.
In a discussion with fellow columnist Mike Colligan, I went as far as saying I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lightning with a top five power play. While Kubina isn’t a top tier power play defenseman in the mold of Mike Green or Sergei Gonchar, but he can distribute the puck and with options like Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Gagne, he should have no problem doing so. Kubina is stepping into the same role that turned Kurtis Foster into a valuable fantasy contributor and Kubina is significantly more talented than Foster.
Now that I have sung their praises, where does that leave you? For starters, you should be able to get all but Stamkos and possibly St. Louis below market value due to them playing in Tampa and disappointing previous results. Most forget that two short seasons ago Lecavalier was a perennial first round pick. Now, he can be had for probably a fourth or fifth rounder, in experienced leagues. Kubina will not be drafted among the top ten defensemen, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him end up there come next April. Also, I believe all six forwards and Kubina should provide solid power play contributions. The only potential downfall could be +/- issues, as the defensive depth and goaltending leaves a little to be desired. Tampa was one of the worst in goals against last season and Dan Ellis only provides a marginal improvement in goal, if that.
With that said, this advice may seem backwards, but pass on Stamkos. He will most likely be drafted at the end of the first round and there are better odds that he does not match his numbers from last year. Center is extremely deep and you should be targeting a stud goaltender or wing where most will draft Stamkos. Instead, target Lecavalier a few rounds later. Because of Tampa’s offensive depth, I would not be surprised to see them end up with similar production. While Stamkos may provide slightly better production, the first round price is significantly greater than the fourth or fifth round price of Lecavalier.
Downie is also a super sleeper this year. Assuming he sticks on one of the top two lines, he should be able to net you at least 25 goals and put up close to 200 PIM. Those type of numbers are fantasy gold and he should be available on the back half of your draft. His intrinsic value is significantly higher than his market value.
I have drank the Lightning Kool-Aid in the past, but this version tastes much better. Yzerman has already brought a new culture to the Sunshine State, one that should rejuvenate Lecavalier. The team also has significantly more offensive firepower than it has ever had, including 2003-04. While I am placing high expectations on the Lightning, I believe they have the offense to do it and playing in the weak Southeast Division helps. If the Caps aren’t careful, they may find themselves looking up at Tampa. Go get yourself some Lightning.