2014 Tampa Bay Lightning Predictions and NHL Futures Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 10/7/2014
I don't give myself credit often - and admittedly deserve it only slightly more often - but I am proud of my faith in the Lightning last year when too few seemed to like them after a lousy season the year before. Of course, I am also sad that a team that I think could have won the East - and, not to give anything away too soon, I am going to pick to win it again - was hit by injuries and turmoil that somewhat limited potential. They were second in their division last year but made a quick playoff exit.
Fate conspired against them last year, though. First, Steven Stamkos - hands down the best offensive player in the league - was hurt in November and lost until after the Olympics. Then Martin St. Louis, typically the model of selfless commitment, had his feelings hurt by being left off the original Canadian Olympic team roster by Tampa GM Steve Yzerman. He eventually played in the tournament and got his gold medal, but his pouting didn't end, and he was traded to the Rangers soon after for New York captain Ryan Callahan. Finally, Ben Bishop, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last year, was hurt in the final week of the season and was lost for the playoffs. That's a lot of bad luck. If they can have better luck they are going to be very dangerous in what is a wide-open Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay Lightning Offseason Moves
The biggest thing the Lightning did in the offseason was take care of their own business. They turned Ryan Callahan from an expensive rental to a long-term asset by locking him up for six years. The rest of the moves were significant but not earth-shaking. They obviously liked what Callahan brought to the team, because they brought in defenseman Anton Stralman and center Brian Boyle in from the Rangers this offseason. Stralman was excellent in the playoffs, and he boosts the defense of this team significantly. So does Jason Garrison, a very solid defensive-minded player who they got for a steal from Vancouver. At 35 Brenden Morrow isn't the player he once was. In 15 games with the Penguins late in 2013, though, he had 14 points, so he is still dangerous on the right line. He also adds a lot of grit and leadership to the team and was a nice, low-risk acquisition. The final move was shoring up the goaltending if Bishop were to get hurt again. The net was a disaster area in the playoffs last year, so Evgeni Nabokov provides a nice insurance policy without getting in the way of developing young talent to eventually back up Bishop long term.
The most exciting addition could turn out to be last year's third overall draft pick, forward Jonathan Frouin. He was returned to junior for more seasoning last year but should be ready to go in a big way this year. He suffered a thumb injury that cost him the preseason, but he is back to practicing and could be ready as soon as the season opener. He's a ridiculous offensive talent who will be on a very strong offensive team - perhaps even on a line with Stamkos - and he is the justifiable favorite to win the Calder Trophy.
This year's first-round selection, defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, was quickly returned to junior to gain more experience and hopefully to gain maturity and grow out of frequent verbal missteps that get him suspended too often.
Tampa Bay Lightning NHL Outlook
Like I said at the outset, I really like this team. They are young and ridiculously talented. Led by Stamkos, they are going to take another big step forward. The loss of St. Louis hurts on the scoresheet, but I actually view it as more of a positive - it clears the way for Stamkos to be the unquestioned leader. They'll score like crazy. The defense is sound and improved. Goaltending is a real strength - Bishop's success last year was no fluke. There is huge upside here.
Tampa Bay Lightning Schedule
The Lightning play the Blackhawks on Nov. 11. That's significant in part because it should be a great game. More significantly, though, that is their 17th game and their first against a true elite team. There are some good teams earlier on - Montreal and Minnesota, for example - but none that are among the top tier. It is an excellent chance for this team to get out of the gate fast and make an early statement in the standings.
Tampa Bay Lightning NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Lightning are at 14/1 to win the Stanley Cup , which has them tied with the Wild and Sharks at seventh. They are the third choice to win the Eastern Conference at 6/1 and the second choice to win the Atlantic Division at 7/2.
2014-15 Tampa Bay Lightning Predictions
It's no secret by now - I am very high on this team. I've already said they will win the East, and writing it down has only strengthened my resolve on that front. This is a very good team, and their time is now. I'm not convinced that any team in the East can measure up to the Western champ in the Cup finals, but Tampa Bay offers more nightmare matchups than anyone outside of Pittsburgh.
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