September is officially among us, meaning the countdown to hockey has begun, especially with Labor Day weekend fast approaching. The aforementioned holiday is a clear sign NHL training camps are in the near future, immediately followed by preseason games.
The Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators are scheduled to kickoff the preseason campaign, but Tampa Bay fans will have to wait until September 22nd to watch the Lightning in action for the first time since the Stanley Cup final. Although the Lightning failed to sign a marquee player and didn’t have a first round draft pick, Tampa is expected to excel in 2015-2016.
Despite ending last season by watching the Chicago Blackhawks hoist the Stanley Cup, 2014-2015 proved to be a breakthrough campaign for Tampa Bay. Everything seemed to run smoothly during the regular season, especially with the relatively unknown Tyler Johnson enjoying a sensational season. The 25-year-old recorded 72 points to help ease the scoring burden from captain Steven Stamkos, providing the Lightning with an even more potent offense.
Head coach Jon Cooper had the Lightning functioning as a complete unit, something that was evident during the playoffs. Tampa Bay managed to make an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, despite a subpar postseason from Stamkos. The Lightning demonstrated other aspects of its game, putting an end to any notion that they’re one-dimensional.
There’s no denying Stamkos disappointed during the playoffs, especially with the eventual Stanley Cup champions restricting the two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner to an abysmal one point during the final series. Regardless of the captain’s underwhelming performance, the Lightning created a sense of optimism for the fanbase.
With an excellent core featuring Stamkos, Johnson, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Ben Bishop, Ondrej Palat, and Alex Killorn, there’s a strong belief that this team can capture the organization’s second Stanley Cup. Steve Yzerman has done a tremendous job since being introduced as General Manager in 2010. The Lightning have constantly evolved under Yzerman’s tutelage, resulting in last season’s impressive finish. The Hall of Famer formed an admirable partnership with Cooper, providing the latter with an exceptional roster. Tampa Bay’s roster has an average age of 26, with 14 players 25 years or younger.
Losing the Stanley will prove to be a bittersweet lesson for the Lightning moving forward. Although the loss will be difficult to overcome for the coaching staff and players, it provided the young roster with valuable experience heading into the new campaign. With Bryan Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filpulla, Matthew Carle, and Braydon Coburn providing the team with a veteran presence, the Lightning can only focus on transforming last season’s disappointment into a positive learning experience.
With almost everyone returning from Cup run, expectations remain high for the Bolts. FULL STORY –> http://t.co/IP6ZM1MOaH
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) August 29, 2015
Aside from the uncertainty of Stamkos’ long-term future with Tampa Bay, the positivity surrounding the Lightning is extremely noticeable due to its reinvigorated fanbase, and owner Jeffrey Vinik. The Lightning averaged approximately 18,823 fans at the Amalie Arena, resulting in the league’s ninth highest average. Vinik is fully committed to the Lightning, sanctioning positive moves since purchasing the team from previous owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie in 2010. Tampa Bay possesses all the tools necessary to become the NHL’s next prominent organization.