(Editor's Note: over the course of the next week, we'll be previewing the 2011-12 Tampa Bay Lightning season with a series of articles exploring the team)
The Tampa Bay Lightning finished up their 2010-11 campaign a lot farther down the road towards the Stanley Cup than most expected. Not so much in the standings, since many hockey pundits had them finishing in sixth or seventh in the Eastern Conference, when they actually finished fifth. No, the surprise came in the post-season when they finished one win away from the Stanley Cup Final.
The question that remains is, can they do it again?
Every team has its good points and its bad points, and the Lightning are no exception. There are many things that the team did right to get into playoffs and stay there for so long. Then again, there were a few things that they didn't do right that prevented them from going all the way.
Ability, discipline, character, conditioning, health, chemistry, coaching, management/ownership, and luck are the nine ingredients that go into making a Stanley Cup winner. Of these factors during the playoffs, the Lightning probably lacked discipline and luck the most. And, as we all know, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good - though, it's best to be both, if you can swing it.
Ability (also known as "talent"). This can be summed up in "The Big Three" of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos. This can be further elaborated by the fact that the Lightning don't have a top line - they have two top lines. Just like goaltending, there's a Line 1A and Line 1B. Though, with head coach Guy Boucher, either the line centered by Lecavalier or the line centered by Stamkos can be Line 1A on any given night.
As pointed out by Nolan Whyte, "Lecavalier has found a way to replace his declining scoring abilities with bull-like strength and determination, making himself a power-center rather than a power scorer, but still coming through as a point-a-game wrecking ball in the playoffs."
Clark Brooks weighed in on this one as well, "I think the slump Stamkos went through last year was actually a good thing in that it will make him tougher mentally. Vinny's healthy and I'm convinced that Marty is a cyborg."
Chemistry. The majority of the players from last season have returned. And the team chemistry this group had last year was fantastic. These guys will walk through fire for each other, and that's definitely a very good thing to see. Because a team that cares for each other, will fight for each other, and that will get them through some very tough spots.
Coaching. Guy Boucher and his coaching staff made a team that had no direction into a squad that blazed its own trail. The Lightning went down paths that they created, and didn't follow the example of others. Boucher's innovative 1-3-1 system baffled most of the NHL - including the hockey media, who tried to classify it as a trap, which it isn't. They also had the players play every game like a playoff game, which gave them the edge up on other teams when they finally were in the playoffs.
Other points that were brought up were improving depth and stable ownership/team management (Clark); lucky acquisitions by the previous ownership/team management that have paid off like Purcell (Nolan).
(or, as Nolan put it, "lower end strengths")
Ability (in this case, depth). Depth throughout the organization isn't what you'd call "great". About the only position that's solid at the moment is center. Wingers can be mixed or matched as necessary, but there's no one in particular that really stands out in Norfolk. Depth at the forward positions isn't bad, but it's not great, either.
Depth at defense is the most lacking. Clark makes a good point. "Things are getting better and they're okay to start the season, but you hate to think what could happen if Eric Brewer or Victor Hedman were to miss time."
Health. Age comes under this as well, and that means Dwayne Roloson. Mathieu Garon makes a serviceable replacement, and Dustin Tokarski is able to back Garon up. But after that, goaltending becomes a bit thin. It will be a question all year long how much and how long Roloson will be able to play.
Nolan has some qualms about that as well. "Like having a goaltender who, despite having just put on a tremendous playoff performance, is now entering an age where his consistency and his durability will be questioned, deserved or not. He's entering the upper stratosphere for goalies, creeping up on longtooths like Johnny Bower and Dominik Hasek (although the latter is playing through his mid-fourties fun funzies in Europe, but I guess if you've already won your Cup and retired from the NHL and you just want to play, who cares if you're on a power team in the KHL? That's still pretty high level, isn't it?)"
Discipline. This is ultimately what killed the Lightning's chances for the Stanley Cup. If you know that the on-ice officials are going to call games tight, and you already have a reputation for being a troublemaker (I'm looking at you, Steve Downie), then you need to play clean and smart. But they didn't, and that's a big reason why the Lightning lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. And we haven't seen that improve much during the preseason, either. Right, Ryan Malone?
Other points that were brought up were overall team defense (Cassie); an improved Eastern Conference and the element of surprise being gone after one season of Boucher being coach (Clark); an aging defense and brittleness/injuries of the lineup (Nolan).