Hockey season is upon us once again, Lightning fans. The team reports for training camp Friday, September 16th and next Wednesday, September 21st is a pre-season game against the St. Louis Blues in Orlando. The Lightning have set the bar very high after last season; I think it's safe to say they exceeded the expectations of most of their fans, yours truly included.
So, my question to the Raw Charge staffers for this week? A simple question with not so simple answers. What are your expectations of the Lightning in the 2011-12 season? How about you Lightning fans? How do you think the Bolts will fare in this upcoming season?
We know about the players that left, the ones that were signed and the ones that decided to stick around, but this is a new year. The Lightning should be better equipped to handle hockey under coach Guy Boucher's system after having a season to play it and an off-season to digest it. But there has also been time for teams to get used to the system and maybe come up with a counter. So, what do we think? Raw Charge answers coming up after the break.
Adam Vingan - Staff Writer / Kings of Leonsis
If the Tampa Bay Lightning proved one thing last season by finishing just one win short of a Stanley Cup Final berth, it's that they have officially returned as one of the NHL's best teams. The Lightning have everything a hockey team needs to be competitive - a fantastic core made up of youth, experience, grit and finesse. The core of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier could arguably be the best leaguewide and support players like Steve Downie, Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell and Nate Thompson provide the intangibles.
With all of that said (and I am sure to receive plenty of criticism for my "homerism"), I do not think that the Lightning are better than the Washington Capitals. While the Lightning are essentially the same team that swept the Caps out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Washington reloaded in a big way, adding five players (Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun) who will all surely make an immediate impact. Plus, with the "Young Guns" - Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green - coming off of career-worst years, the Caps will be out for blood. Good thing their jerseys are already red.
I see the Lightning taking a similar trajectory as they did last season: starting off strong, embroiled in a tight race in the Southeast Division and staying competitive for all 82 games. But keep the fourth or fifth seed warm for Tampa Bay, because they will finish second in the Southeast Division. Yet, that same placement during last season's playoffs didn't seem to hurt.
Cassie McClellan - Managing Editor Raw Charge
Realistically, I think that the Lightning will improve their regular season record from last season, but not do as well in playoffs.
They'll play better during the regular season because they'll have had a full year to have worked with head coach Guy Boucher's system and and offseason to process his philosophy. Hockey is a reactionary sport, for the most part, and the more you have to think about it the less well you do. So the Lightning as a team should be able to do what Boucher expects them to do without thinking about it. It wouldn't surprise me if the Lightning ended up in 3rd or 4th place in the Eastern Conference to finish the season.
The reason why I don't think they'll get as far in playoffs this coming season - at this point, seven or eight months out, I think they'll probably fall out in the second round - is because other teams will also have had a full year to break down Boucher's system. That won't necessarily mean a lot during the regular season, as every team has to prepare for 29 other teams to play so there won't be so much focus on that for opponents. But during the playoffs, teams will be ready for them.
Add to the fact that there's always copycats when it comes to a successful team, and...well, it could make for interesting games this year.
Matt Amos - Staff Writer / Don't Trade Vinny
My expectations? After 19 flipping seasons, or however long it's been, even with the beautiful things we have in place, I don't allow myself to expect anything with this team anymore in regard to regular season success.
That being said, there are a few things I anticipate:
- Every damn time I go to use the bathroom during a game this season, I'll hear one of those commercials where Dave Mishkin screams "SCORE," run out of the bathroom with my pants down, fall, then cuss at myself for falling for it AGAIN.
- Phil Esposito will talk about something, and less than three seconds into his explanation, I'll have no idea what he's talking about anymore. And be laughing hysterically.
- Marty St. Louis will be ranked something ignorant like the 7th overall right winger behind Ilya Kovalchuk to start the season, then be in talks for the Hart Trophy.
- Mattias Ohlund will turn the puck over.
- Some Lightning fan will beg and plead for Vinny Lecavalier to be traded because he's "worthless" even though no person in their right mind would trade for something with 'no worth,' and continue some sort of circular logic but never really come up with any real argument worth listening to.
- See above point and multiply it by elventy billion.
- The Lightning will win the Stanley freaking Cup.
Nolan Whyte - Staff Writer / Frozen Sheets of Hockey
My expectations? For them? Hell, I don't know. I'm too close to the situation. I've let my emotions get involved. They'll go out there and either absolutely rip up the league, or maybe new flaws will creep into view. Maybe we'll see a bunch of new career highs, or maybe the team will be decimated by injuries. It's so hard to say, and I've been notoriously bad at making predictions. I remember writing that the Lightning were a lock to win the Cup, back in 1995. Umm... good guess.
So instead of making half-baked, pie-in-the-sky predictions (103 points, fourth seed in the East. Home ice in the playoffs. Book it.), I'll instead give you my expectations for myself as a fan this season. I expect to get really high (emotionally) if the team starts with even a brief winning streak. I expect to have better posture and self-esteem following big wins over strong rivals. I expect the world to become a hopeless, gloomy place if the team goes into an extended winless skid. I expect to say horrible things about people I don't know at all, simply because they play a game for a team that I don't like. I expect to write blog posts to express all of my hopes, fears and frustrations, and I will for the hundredth time realize that it is stupid to link my own feelings to a group of individuals who I have never met, playing games I have no influence over.
But that's just me. I'm sure the rest of you are much more objective about this whole "sports fan" thing.
Dani Toth - Staff Writer / Benched Whale
Can we get a repeat of last season? Including the Pens playing dead in the playoffs but minus the cheesy country song about being a Lightning fan?
Realistically, my expectations for this year are simple: I expect them to make the playoffs.
Clark Brooks - Staff Writer / Ridiculously inconsistent trickle of consciousness
What's funny about pre-season sports predictions is that they're made based on a roster that won't change due to injuries, trades and other unforeseen circumstances, which never, ever happens. Meaning that even the best, most accurate predictions are wild guesses that somehow hit the mark in spite of still being wrong along the way. It's like having a wheel come off in a bike race and tumbling down a hill, somehow crossing the finish line ahead of the competition, standing up and saying "I meant to do that." What makes that hilarious is that there are people who get paid a lot of money to do it every year.
That said, here, without being paid a lot of money and with little more than a faint prayer of being right, is what I expect from the 2011-12 Lightning: 1st place in the Southeast, number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and a Stanley Cup victory (in four games) over the San Jose Sharks. Stone-cold, solid-gold, lead-pipe lock.
John Fontana - Managing Editor
What I'm expecting for the Lightning this season is that they'll come in and start the season on October 7th, and they'll end the regular season sometime in April. Between the two dates, they'll win some games, they'll lose some games. I expect them to win a few more than they lose, but you never know what could happen to change that.
I expect some fans to be disappointed. No, not because of something going drastically wrong (though it may), it's just someone always is disappointed by one thing or another. Realistically or because of unrealistic expectations. Disappointment always rears it's head, after all.
I also expect some surprises, and some some excitement. I expect some of these expectations to be excessively awesome and some only minorly so... But above all else, I expect the Bolts to... (and this will knock your socks off) play 82 games this season. 41 at home 41 on the road. They will also place between 1st and 15th in the Eastern Conference. Where exactly? Dunno. But the fun is going to be finding out the answer.