After what looked to be a promising season, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff hopes look to be virtually nonexistent, sitting in 13th place and eight points out of a playoff spot with just eight games remaining in this shortened season. For a team that got off to such a hot start, they are now just 17-21-2 overall, despite having a plus-five goal differential on the season. This has to be disappointing for Steve Yzerman and other Lightning management, who drastically overestimated their team’s defense and goaltending, just recently dealing away rookie forward Cory Conacher to Ottawa in exchange for goaltender Ben Bishop.
One who hasn’t disappointed this season, however, is Steven Stamkos. Stamkos continues to be labeled as one of the top offensive threats in the National Hockey League. Stamkos is currently tied with Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals in the race for the Rocket Richard trophy for the most goals in the NHL with 26. Additionally, Stamkos is just five points behind an injured Sidney Crosby for the league lead in points, which is looking like it may be an attainable goal depending how long Crosby remains out.
As of late, Jon Cooper’s team has been infused with young talent from the
Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, a team that he knows very well. Just two nights ago, the Lightning dressed eight players that began this year with the Crunch; Mark Barberio, Brett Connolly, Keith Aulie, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Richard Panik, and Radko Gudas. This is as good of a time as any to develop their young talent and let their prospects get their feet wet, so to speak. With the Lightning all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs this season, the least they can do is to start to rebuild for next year.
This season shouldn’t be blamed on Lightning management because, like myself, they too believed that they had a well-structured team and good quality product to put on the ice. I do believe, however, that they are doing all of the right things now. They fired Guy Boucher, who clearly wasn’t directing the team in a way that management would’ve liked, they are developing their prospects, and they’ve added a goaltender in Ben Bishop, who is a solid NHL netminder.
Although it’s been said before, it seems that next season should be one to look forward to for Lightning fans.
Currently covering all things that is the Tampa Bay Lightning for The Hockey Writers. Follow him on Twitter: @Matt_Metcalf