Dwayne Roloson will be back for the Lightning, but he'll be facing some very different opponents from last season. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The draft has come and gone, free agency season is well underway, and unbelievably, trading players is cool again in the NHL; teams are cleaning house and bringing in the fresh meat. Some NHL teams, including some of the Lightning's Eastern Conference rivals, have complete re-imagined themselves.
The Philadelphia Flyers have changed everything but the city they play in, the Panthers have added ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS to their payroll, while the Carolina Hurricanes have signed Tomas Kaberle, the greatest open-ice hitter in hockey (giggle). Oh, and that guy who used to play here, Brad Richards, is going to play somewhere too. I wasn't really paying attention where. What? New York Rangers? Okay, if you say so.
The Lightning have been focusing mostly on keeping last year's team together, while adding a few fringe pieces. My question to you, the mighty Bolt-o-sphere:
"Some of the Eastern Conference Teams have already undergone massive makeovers during the offseason. The Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Yorker Rangers (to name a few) will all have new identities in the fall. What teams are you most interested in seeing the Lightning lock up with when next season rolls around? Are are the Bolts doing enough to keep up with the pack?"
Answers and poll after the jump. What do YOU think? Leave us your comments!
Clark Brooks: (Clark's blog)
With the signing of Brad Richards, reunited with coach John Tortorella, the games against the Rangers will automatically be marquee matchups. I hope the Rangers are pretty good, because as much as I hate to admit it, it's good for any league when at least one of their teams in New York does well.Beyond that, I would love to see an actual, honest-to-goodness rivalry FINALLY develop with the Panthers, especially now that the Thrashers are history. For whatever reason, Florida and Tampa Bay's teams always seem to be going in opposite directions, and the closest they've ever come to having meaningful competition is when one team is in position to be the other's spoiler. Hopefully the Panthers have finally bottomed out and will start an upswing and games between them and the clearly up-and-coming Lightning will have a real impact. In my opinion, intense, bitterly contested regional rivalries will do more than playoff appearances or even Stanley Cup championships to sway the opinions of those opposed to hockey in southern markets.
I would like to see some sort of real in-state rivalry develop with the Panthers. I think it would be good for both teams as well as good for the NHL. One reason for a true rivalry to develop is both teams have to be good at the same time, and that hasn't been the case between the Bolts and Panthers, but with the Panthers' new additions, it is a very real possibility this coming season.I also look forward to seeing how old friend Brad Richards does in Gotham. I don't know that his signing is enough to make it a rivalry any more that Torts' presence already does, but an old saying goes "familiarity breeds contempt", so as the Lightning and Rangers become more familiar, will that increase the rivalry aspect? A lot is going to depend on the new NHL realignment that is coming soon too. That may give the Bolts new teams with which a rivalry may develop. (Detroit, anyone?)As far as the Bolts keeping up with the pack, I think they have. They made some additions (Gilroy, Gervais) and some old friends resigned (Hall, Roli) and if (WHEN) they resign Stamkos and Purcell, they will have accomplished quite a bit. But I'm not so sure our JM is so much worried about "keeping up with the Joneses" as he is putting together the best team for the dollar to make the Bolts competitive now and in the future. If he does that properly, the rest of the pack may have to worry about keeping up with the Lightning.
Dani Toth: (Lightning Hockey Blog)
I'm looking forward to seeing the Rangers this season based on them getting Richards and what some offense can bring to their team, the Flyers because I have no idea what to expect from them, and the Sabres because they have seemed interesting to me this off-season with the moves they have made. And let's just throw in the Jets to that mix because I am excited to see their fans in their first year of the NHL back in Winnipeg.
As for whether the Lightning have done enough, I didn't think they needed to do that much to begin with, so I am pleased so far. They were just in the EC Finals and I would like to see how this year plays out with this group before I think they need to make some major upgrades.
I want to see if Florida Panthers Head Coach Kevin Dineen can make a salad out of the talent that has been tossed his way. That should be the most interesting change in the Southeast Division.As for the Bolts keeping pace, lets look at the "key" losses: a head-case goalie with concussion issues (Mike Smith), a third line grinder / agitator who put up 29 points in 2010-11 (Sean Bergenheim), and an oft-injured, under-performing wing (Simon Gagne). Generalizations aside, the losses aren't as massive as they appear, nor are the gains of opponents. It's more a matter of perception: Washington, Florida, Carolina all needed to retrofit or rebuild their rosters. Tampa Bay has to tweak what they have, and deal with what they've lost. Those losses aren't as massive as perception (and panic) have made them seem.
Once again: I trust Steve Yzerman as much as most people trust their spouses, so, I think just having him as GM is plenty enough for us to keep up with the pack.
I'm looking forward to the games against the Capitals this year. Washington has done a lot this offseason, and on paper, look like a much better team. Which is scary, because they were pretty damn good last year. I think the Caps provide us with a true measuring stick.
Out of everyone so far, I'm most interested in seeing the Florida Panthers play the Lightning next season. Tampa Bay and Florida have long been billed as "rivals", but in truth there is no actual rivalry. Injuries and intense competition fuel rivalries, and the teams just haven't been good at the same time to really brew any bad blood. But the Panthers, in trying to get their payroll up over the cap floor, have added some very intriguing players. It'll be interesting to see if they'll gel and become a competitive team. And if that happens, it'll be interesting to see how that plays out within the Southeast Division and with the Lightning. It would be really nice if "in-state rivals" actually meant something, and that would be great for amateur hockey in the state of Florida as well.
View last week's question: Who Do You Want Back?
Which team are you looking forward to seeing when the 2011-2012 season begins?
Florida Panthers (42 votes)
Carolina Hurricanes (0 votes)
Winnipeg Jets (7 votes)
Washington Capitals (15 votes)
New York Rangers (9 votes)
Philadelphia Flyers (7 votes)
Other (4 votes)
84 total votes