Not much on the hockey front as of recently, a few signings here and there, but not much to spark my interest.
However, you'll remember that just after the draft, I wrote a blog saying that Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Columbus would become stronger teams in the near future.
Phoenix hasn't let me down, although their moves in free agency weren't mind-bending. Columbus acquired a few players to strengthen the forward position, including Raffi Torres, R. J. Umberger, and Nikita Filatov. Los Angeles still looks ok for the draft, although I'm wondering if Drew Doughty lucked out on not having the guidance of Rob Blake around.
Surprisingly, another team has risen up to join the ranks of this criteria. The Tampa Bay Lightning made several moves during the offseason that will surely boost the team.
The two biggest catches were Steven Stamkos (drafted 1st overall) and Ryan Malone (unrestricted free agent acquisition). Both are sure to play key roles on the second line. Behind the #1 offensive trio of Vaclav Prospal, Vinny Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis, Malone and Stamkos will probably pair up on the second line with Michel Oullet, Jussi Jokinen, or Mark Recchi. In all, the forwards line-up like this:
Left Wingers: Vaclav Prospal (Listed as a Center on the Lightning player page), Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts
Centers: Chris Gratton, Jeff Halpern, Vincent Lecavalier, Wyatt Smith, Steven Stamkos, Nick Tarnasky
Right Wingers: Brandon Bochenski, Adam Hall, Michel Oullet, Martin St. Louis, Radim Vrbata, Jason Ward, Mark Recchi
Lock-ins for AHL or spare time; Smith, Bochenski, Tarnasky. I'm not sure where Tampa will fit Jason Ward: his experience spells third-liner, but where would that leave Adam Hall? St. Louis and Vrbata should fill the top two lines, while Oullet and Recchi will likely swap time as spares or fourth-liners. The center depth chart is probably; Lecavalier, Stamkos, Halpern, Gratton, Tarnasky, Smith. Left wing line-up: Prospal, Malone, Jokinen, Roberts. Not sure if anyone in the minors could be called up to LW in case of injury, so we'll probably see a right winger switched over, possibly Bochenski.
The blue-line is the only position that might have taken a hit, losing Dan Boyle. However, his loss resulted in promising Matt Carle, who'll get a chance in the top four. Tampa defenders include: Matthew Carle, Andrew Hutchinson, Filip Kuba, Mike Lundin, Shane O'Brien, Alexandere Picard, Paul Ranger, Matt Smaby.
AHL Locks: Smaby, Picard. Seventh-year vet Filip Kuba suddenly becomes the veteran leader, while either Carle or Paul Ranger can be counted as the most skilled. Despite a lack of big names, this group can still be solid. Offensive skills are brought by Kuba, Ranger, and Carle, while Lundin and O'Brien bring the physical element. Picard and Hutchinson are wild cards. Picard has offensive talent (5-assist game with Philly), but his defensive game didn't bring enough to make him stick with the Flyers. Hutchinson has bounced between the AHL and NHL, playing with Nashville and Carolina. He can scored (14 points in 41 games), but he hasn't been able to stick with a team for a full season, and I'm not sure why. He'll get his best chance in Tampa.
The Lightning quickly gained a reputation for poor goaltending after Nikolai Khabibulin left as a UFA. None of John Grahame, Sean Burke, Marc Denis, or Johan Holmqvist could lead the Bolts back to respectability. Tampa is hoping that after the acquisitions of Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig, the goaltending will be solid once again. It will be an interesting battle for the starting position: Upstart, young, yet inexperienced Smith versus experienced, successful, yet aging Kolzig. We may just see Smith in net more often.
That's my Tampa Bay Outlook, thanks for reading, comment and critique please.