The Tampa Bay Lightning had a phenomenal 2014-15 season, coming in third in the Eastern Conference and making their first trip back to the Stanley Cup Finals since the team won it all in 2004.
Watching Steven Stamkos’ form return after a broken leg saw him miss the 2014 Sochi Olympics and part of the regular season was almost as exciting as seeing the emergence of Tyler Johnson and the “Triplets Line.”
Speed, skill and youth are three important factors the Tampa Bay Lightning used this year to make it to the big dance. Can they do it again?
When it comes to the bench boss and the general manager, Tampa Bay is set. Steve Yzerman is a competitor at heart. A former member of the Detroit Red Wings, Yzerman is a Hall of Famer who has three Stanley Cups to his name.
Although his playing career is long over, Yzerman’s desire to win has translated into his second career as GM of the Lightning. Since taking on the gig in 2010, he has been instrumental in developing the Lightning into a dangerous NHL team. He took a team in shambles and made it capable of taking home the Cup.
Yzerman’s hockey IQ is off the charts. Is he perfect? Of course not. He has made some mistakes (Vinny Lecavalier’s contract, but that’s Philly’s problem now), but he has also succeeded at so many levels. If he wasn’t good, Team Canada would have never named him executive director for the 2014 Olympics. The team he put together went on to win the gold.
And in the process, Yzerman made his best mistake. The whole leaving Marty St. Louis off the initial roster may have tipped St. Louis to ask for a trade. So, as a result, Yzerman landed the gritty, blue-collar forward Ryan Callahan (and signed him for six years) and two first-round picks. Not bad.
Jon Cooper is one of those coaches who has won at every level—literally. No, he doesn’t have a Stanley Cup yet, but with the team he’s got, he may likely add that to his resume soon.
Cooper became the head coach at the end of the 2012-13 season and, in his first full season as coach, he increased the Bolts’ winning percentage from .417 to .616. It was good enough to get the team back in the playoffs after missing out on the postseason action for the three previous years. And then this year, he led them all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
He quickly has made his mark on Bolts hockey and, if things continue this way, he may be residing in Tama Bay for the long haul.
Tampa Bay is stacked. Sure, the team doesn’t have much of a veteran presence or a lot of players with extensive playoff experience. But they have a group of talented young guns who haven’t even hit their prime.
Of course, you got to start with the sniper and the team’s captain Steven Stamkos. His playoff performance wasn’t ideal (he struggled to score), but I’m not sure anyone can say anything bad about him. His talent is undeniable and his shot is probably envied by most NHL players. He’s got speed, plays with finesse and is truly fun to watch.
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Aside from Stamkos, Johnson is probably the most talked about Bolt. He emerged this season as on offensive tour de force. An undrafted player, who is quite small, Johnson showed the entire hockey world just what he is capable of, which is lots and lots of scoring. He is a great playmaker and passer and has unbelievable speed. Johnson is Tampa’s rising star who is primed for a big contract.
Johnson wouldn’t be as successful if it weren’t for Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. Together the three became known as the Triplets, due to their chemistry and closeness in age. The line was arguably the most dangerous one in the NHL this past season.
Tampa Bay also has the likes of Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula and Cedric Paquette, as well as Callahan and Brian Boyle adding to the offense and doing all the little things it takes to win games. Not to mention, the Lightning also have Jonathan Drouin. The team has depth and it works in their favor.
The Lightning’s defense is dominated and anchor by the Swedes. Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are brick walls in the back. They are just always consistently strong, with and without the puck. They are constantly defending against the League’s top talent and can also contribute on offense. Stralman is the only defensemen under six feet. Everyone else, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, Jason Garrison, Nikita Nesterov and Andrej Sustr are all six feet or taller.
Really, Tampa’s backend is filled with giants and their goaltender is no exception. Ben Bishop, who towers over everyone when he stands at 6-foot-7, has started to pave the way for a reputation as an elite goaltender. He isn’t at the level of Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price, but he was able to help his team get by both of their respective teams on the way to the Stanley Cup Finals this past season.
Bishop is a competitor who always wants to win and continues to test his limits. He pushes himself to be better and, so far, he has been able to continue to improve. Throughout the entire 2014-15 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning never lost more than two games in a row. That there says something about the team and its goaltender.
The future looks good for Tampa Bay. Hopefully they will be able to lock down Stamkos long term this summer (although everything’s been pretty quiet on that front) and be able to get Kucherov, Johnson and all the other young budding stars under contract in the next few seasons. If Tampa Bay can lock them up, they will be set for awhile.
The team also has some great prospects in its system. We’ve already seen Andrey Vasilevskiy come up through the system and act as a backup and play for Bishop this postseason. The Lightning also have big, physical defensemen and speedy forwards developing on their affiliate teams.
With defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, center Vladislav Namestnikov, right wing Adam Erne and other talented prospects, the Lightning can become a consistent Cup contender.
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