NHL season preview: Three big questions facing the Tampa Bay Lightning

Has Lightning GM Steve Yzerman been retooling or rebuilding the team? - Bruce Bennett

While we've been publishing our own season preview here at Raw Charge, SB Nation's larger season preview tossed three questions about the Lightning to us.

SB Nation's NHL season preview gives a glimpse at all 30 franchises leading in to the 2013-14 NHL season. Styled much like an annual that you'd see on newsstands from large publications (think The Sporting News, or the Hockey News among others).  Difference being instead of newsstands, you get SB Nation's preview online.

At any rate, three questions were asked in the preview about the Tampa Bay Lightning (that page was largely compiled by myself and Kyle Alexander).  Below you'll find my responses tot hese questions.  I invite other Lightning fans to remark about those questions (or ask others) in comments).

1. Are the Lightning "rebuilding" or simply "retooling?"

"Rebuilding" would necessitate the club tearing down the established and starting over with a new base, a new core.  But that's not it exactly.

If the Lightning were "retooling" in the sense that sport fans know it, they'd be adding only a select few pieces to an already established core and crossing their fingers that the results will propel the team to a better place in the standings.  In a sense, that's what's going on - but that's not it exactly either.  To retool would necessitate the Lightning being close to contention as-was, and the results last season say that's not the case.

The word to use is "building", and the construction of the Lightning started in 2010-11 after GM Steve Yzerman took over.  Yzerman had the option of rebuilding in the traditional sense outright when he took over as GM in the spring of 2010 - fire sale, rough years with a young group and an undefined core until things came together with patience.  Yzerman didn't go that route. He fortified the NHL team, which bought himself time to revamp and generally build a system that produced NHL-ready talent.

The Lightning only "retooled" in the traditional sense during the 2013 off-season, they made a key change when they bought out Vincent Lecavalier and replaced him with Valtteri Filppula. Other holes that exist in the lineup will be filled by home grown talent from the Bolts minor league system and directly from the draft.

Head coach Jon Cooper addressed this question on media day at the start of training camp September 11th:

"I don't like the word 'rebuilding'. Professional sports is a business. If you finish in the bottom half of the standings, you're rebuilding. If you finish in the top half, you're reloading. It all kind of means the same thing; everybody has the same common goal. I can't sit here and say we're rebuilding. We've already built from the ground up. We had a minor league team that had never made the playoffs in their affiliation with the Lightning. Now not only are they making the playoffs on a regular basis, they're making the Calder Cup finals on a regular basis. You have to have prospects to do that. We're able to make trades now. For instance, we give up a bright young prospect in Cory Conacher to pick up a bright young prospect to fill a need in Ben Bishop. Is that rebuilding? I don't know. Maybe it's just building."

2. Who's the starting goaltender?

That question hasn't been resolved during the preseason, and likely won't be for some time yet.  The towering tandem of Ben Bishop (6' 7") and Anders Lindback (6' 6") are expected to share responsibilities in net until as so much of a time as one outplays the other and earns more starts because of it.

The lack of a designated #1 goalie doesn't have to be a concern for the Lightning, though neither goalie has gotten extended, serious playing time as a starter in the past.  Their success or failures is more dependent on the team playing defense more soundly as well as Bishop and Lindback responding positively to the teachings of goaltender coach Frantz Jean. The Lightning in general struggled to clear the puck from their own zone, and it led to more opportunities for opponents and more shots faced by Lightning netminders.

The issues with Frantz Jean, who has been goalie coach since 2010 in Tampa, are chronicled at length and thoroughly in an article posted last spring here at Raw Charge.

3. What changes are evident under the new coaching staff?

It should make the likes of Mike Millbury and the rest of his ilk at NBC Sports Net (among other media sources) happy to know that the 1-3-1 defensive scheme is not being employed by head coach Jon Cooper, that much has been evident through training camp so far. What's also been evident is the Lightning trying to play more responsibly, with a focus on defense-first (though their preseason has been dominated with high scoring affairs and not defensive chess matches).

Cooper, who favors a style of hockey that is a hybrid mix of the 1980's Edmonton Oilers and 1970's Philadelphia Flyers, has preached a pack-mentality among his players (though if you simply write the saying off as cliché, you wouldn't be wrong.  Former head coach Guy Boucher used the same phrase regularly).  He doesn't just want them standing up for each other, but also a mentality that they won't take crap from opponents (even if it's wiser to try drawing a penalty than retaliating). You can't use the preseason as a barometer for physical play, though, as guys are fighting for jobs - sometimes literally... But there has been an uptick in physical play by players who are more secure in their roster spots than others.

Lightning fans that followed the 2011-12 Calder Cup winning Norfolk Admirals or the watched some online streams of the 2012-13 Syracuse Crunch during the lockout have seen this type of game from Cooper's teams. They're high energy and motivated, but most of all they are tenacious and don't give up easily.

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