Lightning Strikes: A New NHL Powerhouse

The New Leader of the Tampa Juggernaut

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.

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

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.

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  • Wayne stuck in AL

    “Kubina miraculously tallied 38 points while playing with the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that could barely compete in the AHL.”

    Oh, really? How then did the Thrashers wind up ahead of the Lightning in the standings???

  • Mike Colligan

    My issue with the Gagne trade is not only is Matt Walker a “career 6th defenseman”, but he’s possibly a #8 defenseman on that team. What is Holmgren trying to do? Who elects to pay a 6/7/8ish dman $1.7m? And this team now has 5 dmen making over $3.2m – that’s insane.

    It’s almost like he knows the Flyers came up short this year because they only had 4 reliable D last year, so he’s overcompensating with Meszaros and Walker and again ignoring goaltending. I don’t get it.

    As far as Tampa – top two lines are as good as anyone in the league. But where’s the depth? In the salary cap era, it’s tough to be this top heavy. 3rd and 4th lines win you big games when it counts and right now Yzerman definitely still has some work to do.

    I sure am looking forward to watching some exciting high-scoring Tampa-Washington games in that division next year though.

  • Joseph Romano

    RC, I understand that Gagne is an injury concern, but his 5.5m cap hit is much better than Briere’s at 6.5m. Briere has been an extreme disappointment since signing with Philly, with the exception of this post season. If there was one time to move Briere, it was this summer. If I were Holmgren, I would have done everything in my power to move Briere, not Gagne. Perhaps, this move speaks to how unmovable Briere’s contract is.

    While I’m not arguing Gagne is the picture of health, he has played 10 seasons in Philly, seven of which he has played at least 69 games. Sure, 75 or more would be better, but missing 13 games doesn’t ruin a season. Especially when that 5.5m cap hit player is out performing the 6.5m cap hit player.

    The fact remains that Yzerman was more than happy to let Philly eat up Meszaros’ cap hit knowing something had to give. Holmgren pinned himself in a corner and Yzerman snuck in and got Gagne for pennies on the dollar. There is no other way to paint it, Holmgren gave up a very very good offensive talent for a career 6th defenseman and a meaningless pick. Sure, he had to do it because of the cap, but it doesn’t make the deal any better.

    After a very good 2009-10 for Holmgren, his 2010-11 is not off to a very good start. But as Rob McGowan said, showing the pieces on paper is one thing, we have to withhold true judgment until we see it on the ice. October can’t get here quick enough. Thanks for the comment and stay tuned for more fantasy coverage in the near future.

  • RC

    I like how you pointed out how Tampa robbed Philly to get Gagne and that Gagne (WHEN HE’S HEALTHY) – hahahahahahahahaha – That’s the problem, Gagne has never been healthy. Name me a season where he played all 82 games. Oh that’s right, that would be NEVER 😉 So yes I agree he’s good when healthy, but the guy has had every injury known to man and one of those (concussion, groin, oblique, shoulder, sports hernia) comes back around each year. So for 5.5 mill a year, sorry, but I can spend 5.5 better elsewhere.

  • Rob McGowan

    Yzerman has made some solid moves in his short tenure as GM. However, I was very surprised to see them draft Brett Connolly with his injury trouble in the past. Another dman would have been nice to grow alongside of Hedman, IMO. But regardless, he’s still done a nice job. It may be too early to consider them a Powerhouse…think back to when the Avalanche, who already had Sakic, Forsberg, and Hejduk, and then went and added Selanne and Kariya (all who were still producing effectively at the time) and ended up being nothing more than OK. Paper always looks better…just saying to keep realistic expectations and to not be surprised if the Bolts don’t turn out as powerful as you think…but then again, I am an Isles fan and have trained myself to never get too excited.

  • Joseph Romano

    Justin, great call, love Major League and even Major League 2. As much a I love Yzerman’s moves as a GM and appreciate him as one of the top players in the history of the game, I’m not sure his legs can handle aggressive adult league. Tampa should just be thankful they have a great hockey mind at the helm.

  • Justin

    Is it wrong that I’m rooting for Stevie-Y to pull a Roger Dorn-in-Major-League-2 when as GM he decides to activate himself?

  • Jas Faulkner

    Feels good when the stars are aligned, the trades and signings are savvy and the numbers look right, doesn’t it?

    Good luck with revamp this season. This lineup looks like it’s going to give TB their money’s worth and then some. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all works out.

  • Esq.

    You’ve really got to love what Stevie Y has done in Tampa. He has instantly made hockey relevant again. The foundation was set with Stamkos’ amazing sophomore year and he has been able to build on that foundation by making excellent moves and bringing in a fairly big name.

    I think most would love to see TB knock the Caps off their perch, but I’m just not sure they have the goaltending or defensive depth to do so. Varlymov is unproven, but I would much prefer him in net than Ellis. Also, defense is certainly a weakness in DC, but TB can’t even match the Caps D. Hedman and Kubina is a good start but the other four will be weak. I think they should strongly consider bringing in Andy Sutton, Jay McKee or another defensively minded big body defenseman.

    I do agree though that most teams, if any, can match TB’s top two lines. Like you said, the Caps come close but TB can match Knuble with Malone and Fehr with Downie. The top two lines really are very strong and very deep. Not superstars with a bunch of junk like in Pittsburgh. Let’s see how Stevie Y fills out the rest of the roster before we give them the South East, though.


    One more thing, I despise the Red Wings (mostly because they do everything pretty well and I am simply a hater), but Steve Yzerman is the man. If anybody can make the Lightning matter, it is that man.

    If Gagne stays healthy it could get ugly in the south this year!


    I will be elated if someone gives the Caps a run for their money in the south eastern division.

    Hell, maybe they will even make this season count!