The Cup has been awarded, the entry draft has been conducted, and the weirdest little free agent frenzy the NHL has ever seen has come and gone. While other teams have completely tossed their rosters, stripped down, rebuilt, added, subtracted, reloaded, rebooted, or saw elite superstars in their prime retire, what have the Tampa Bay Lightning done?
They've said goodbye to Captain Vincent Lecavalier and welcomed Valtteri Filppula. Outside of that, most of the moves have been minor and internal, resigning parts and prospects and the like. That fits with Steve Yzerman's "patience" plan: get better from the inside out. Always one to look for inner beauty, that Steve.
But the fact re/mains, outside of of changing a Vinny into a Vally, the Lightning look strangely similar to the team that finished third-last in the NHL last season. So I look to you, Mighty Boltosphere, tell me, what has the Yze One done? Is this a better team yet? Have the Lightning gotten better?
Clark Brooks, Raw Charge contributor:
On paper, which is the only place comparisons like this can take place, no. The Tampa Bay Lightning are not a better team than they were a year ago today. Of course, this all goes in the trash as soon as they start playing and we see what the team actually looks like playing hockey. Then we'll have all kinds of new statistics to fight over. Although, I just don't think those statistics are going to be worth fighting over.
However, they are better in terms of being an organization that has the assets and flexibility (I predict we're all going to be very tired of some of these terms sooner than later, based on the fact that I'm already pretty tired of them) to make the kinds of moves that will actually produce impactful results and not just shuffle the names on the roster. Every year, Stevie (I call him Stevie here only because I don't think he knows who I am in print; in real life it's Mr. Yzerman because I'm a chicken) carves out a little more wiggle room for himself. When he's finally free to really make big things happen, I believe he will. I think it's close to that point now, and certainly closer than it was a year ago.
Clare Austin, Raw Charge contributor:
I honestly don't know. I've thought about this and there's so much that remains to be seen about this team that I can't really get it straight in my own mind whether the Lightning are, as Jon Cooper said, "a better team on July 6th than we were on July 5th." Partly that's because it's still not written in stone who'll be on the opening day roster, especially exactly which of the #TampaCuse boys will be sticking (beyond Radko Gudas and Alex Killorn.) We're still having to think in terms of who's most likely to be there and who's got slightly longer odds. And, of course, there's still the possibility of trades happening.
But mostly it's because there was no obvious, objective reason for the Lightning to have been as bad as they were last season. On paper that roster, while it was never going to dominate the NHL, was not a bottom three roster in anyone's estimation. Something happened there that was wholly unpredictable. And so without being able to say what that was, it's really hard for me to say it has or has not been addressed.
The coaching staff has, mostly, been overhauled. I have no clue as to whether it's better or not (I know that's close to the forbidden phrase of "new coach," but it's a real concern.) There's no question in my mind that Ben Bishop is a better goaltender than Mathieu Garon, so that's certainly an upgrade. The defense looks pretty much the same with the exception of Radko Gudas. I think he'll be fine, but he's still inexperienced at the NHL level and was pretty protected in his NHL games last season. So is that an upgrade or not? The Lightning may not be better off with Filppula than they were with Vinny, but they're better off with Filppula than with rookies in the 2C spot.
But, for me, I keep coming back to the fact that they were far worse in spring 2013 than there was any reason to expect them to be. If the Lightning get better results this upcoming season, how much of it is due to roster changes and how much of it is due to the team as is simply getting better results?
John Fontana, managing editor of Raw Charge:
Short-term, no. Long-term, yes.
Short-term: the Lightning did not keep pace with its new division rivals in the "Flortheast" Division. Boston has retooled, Ottawa as well, Toronto has made several moves of substance. Better teams got markedly better while Tampa Bay largely stayed the same.
Long-term, though, the transition has started to system depth. There hasn't been a shuffling-deckchairs move on defense (moves that don't improve the D but change out players). While there aren't many roster spots open, prospects are going to get a full chance to win them. Rick Bowness coming in to coach D should also improve the blue line's fortunes, perhaps not right away though.
And then there's that dead-weight contract that was taken off the books when Vinny Lecavalier was bought out. Whatever you think of him doesn't matter. That contract he had with the club, however, was bad for the organization.
Now we're gonna' have to suffer Vinny in Flyers orange, short term (until Philly gives up on him and forces him out).
Interesting question. After the Lecavalier buyout, the draft and free agency (so far) the Lightning are certainly NOT a better "team." In fact, we don’t know what kind of a team they are yet. Although the signing of Valtteri Filppula looks good on paper, it remains to be seen if he can replace the .82 points per game and physicality contributed by Lecavalier this past season. Goaltending questions abound, especially after Ben Bishop’s poor performance at the World Championships (2.83 GAA and .876 save percentage) and the porous defense remains virtually unchanged. While it is easy to be excited by the moves that Steve Yzerman has made during his tenure as GM, it is entirely possible that the "team" may take a step backwards before it moves forward towards what looks to be a bright future.
Certainly with the additions of the Yzerman draft picks (especially Jonathan Drouin and Adam Erne) and the free agent acquisition of Flippula, the "organization" is deeper and better, but not necessarily the "team". We’ll see.
Justin Godfrey, The Hopeful Chase:
Yes. On ice, this is a better team. Removing salaries and cap issues, Valtteri Filppula is a solid pickup for the Lightning. Is the former Red Wing the perfect answer for their needs? No, but he isn't the worst (I'm looking at you Mike Ribeiro). He can fill in at center and then shift over to left wing when The Harvard Man, Alex Killorn, is ready to assume the position permantly.
Filppula will play solid, if not spectacular, hockey on both ends of the ice and should bounce back from a bad season. First round draft pick Jonathan Drouin has an excellent chance to make the team and if he performs to expectations fans won't care if Filppula is scoring goals or not.
Now about that blueline.......
As always, this whole thing is just a pretext to start an interesting conversation in the comments. Now it's up to YOU: Are the Lightning better?
Nolan Whyte is working on a novel about an alcoholic goaltender, a beautiful painter, and a bird who writes mysteries. Ask him why on twitter at @nolanwhyte.