The Tampa Bay Lightning turned in a surprising season, finishing with 101 points and a 46-27-9 record- 8th-best in all of hockey. The President Trophy-winning Boston Bruins were the lone team to finish ahead of Tampa in the Atlantic Division and the Pittsburgh Penguins were the only other team to have more points in the Eastern Conference.
The success of an unexpectedly strong regular season quickly vanished in a first-round playoff matchup against the Montreal Canadiens. With season MVP Ben Bishop out for the series, Anders Lindback and Kristers Gudlevskis were unable to fill the void. The Lightning were completely outclassed in a four-game sweep.
- Sens fans are going to want to shield their eyes for this one- in his first full season in Tampa (and in the NHL, really) Ben Bishop was the most important part of the Lightning’s successful regular season. This is really saying something considering it’s a team that had Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis on its roster for the majority of the season. His 2.23 GAA and .924 SV% earned him a Vezina nomination and his 37 wins set a new franchise record.
- While Nathan MacKinnon garnered all the attention among rookies this past season, 23 year-old Ondrej Palat quietly put up just an impressive of a season. His 59 points (23 G, 36 A) were just 4 short of MacKinnon and his plus-32 rating was tops among rookies and tied for seventh overall in the NHL.
- Olympic roster snub conversation was mostly focused on names like Bobby Ryan, Martin St. Louis, Claude Giroux, and Keith Yandle before the Sochi games, but the biggest snub of the tournament was likely Tampa defenceman Victor Hedman. Hedman has progressively developed into one of the NHL’s best two-way defenceman, with reliable, steady play in the defensive zone and chipping in with 55 points (13 G, 42 A) this past season. His offensive output was ahead of big names like PK Subban, Zdeno Chara, Alex Pietrangelo, Keith Yandle, Andrei Markov, and Niklas Kronwall.
- Although many positives can be taken away from how the team played in his absence, the loss of Steven Stamkos for 45 games with a broken leg was a major blow to the Lightning. With Stamkos right there with Ovechkin as the best pure goal-scorer in the NHL, Tampa Bay missed his scoring touch for over half of the season.
- The whole Martin St. Louis vs. Steve Yzerman fiasco left a dark cloud looming over the Lightning’s otherwise successful year. Whether St. Louis’ demand to be dealt to New York was solely based on his Olympic snub or something more, it definitely left Yzerman in a tough spot. Although I believe the Lightning were able to salvage a decent return (although nothing close to face value) with the acquisition and extension of Ryan Callahan and a conditional pick that turned out to be a first-rounder, this is now back-to-back seasons where the Lightning have lost the two most significant players in franchise history. The loss of St. Louis can easily be compared to what it meant to the Sens’ organization in losing Daniel Alfredsson.
PROGNOSIS FOR NEXT SEASON
Handicapping the upcoming season for the Tampa Bay Lightning is easily among the most difficult of the thirty NHL teams. On one hand, it is easy to see things going south with the way the postseason went and the official dawning of the St. Louis-less era. But there were still many positives to take away from last season. The Lightning had some young players step up and enjoyed a lot of success even without (arguably) the game’s second-best player for a significant chunk of time. The Lightning also plugged some holes with some under-the-radar signings so far this summer which have included Brian Boyle, Brenden Morrow, Jason Garrison, Anton Stralman, and Evgeni Nabokov- all of which to extremely affordable contracts. Although I believe a return to home-ice in the playoffs would be a stretch, another playoff appearance for the Lightning feels like a fairly safe bet.