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Spring cleaning: The Lightning enter the off season

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher addresses the media to wrap up the 2011-12 season. (photo by Clark Brooks)
Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher addresses the media to wrap up the 2011-12 season. (photo by Clark Brooks)

Today was the final getaway day of the season for the 2011-12 Tampa Bay Lightning, with players, coaches and staff members heading their separate ways. Having failed to qualify for the playoffs, the only tasks that remained today were a small handful of compulsory meetings, some last minute housekeeping (if you sent a letter asking for Mike Commodore's autograph, he signed your cards and put them in the outgoing mail today) and a final media briefing from general manager Steve Yzerman and head coach Guy Boucher.

Most players were upbeat and felt that the Lightning are not that far away from returning to contender status. Not surprising, considering that a year ago at this time they were preparing for a playoff run that would see them lose the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals by a single goal. But as head coach Guy Boucher has so frequently pointed out, "different time, different team."

This team has some serious shortcomings that need to be addressed. Terrible performances on the road, by far the most goals allowed in the league with 281 (the runner up was Toronto with 264) and a lack of organizational depth that, while much improved, is still a concern. These are just three of the more glaring situations that need to be addressed.

While general manager Steve Yzerman will not have the constraints he had to deal with last year just to fill out a full roster and it's unlikely that Boucher will have to manage the amount of injuries that plagued his club this season, both face considerable challenges going into next season.

In meeting with the media today, they reflected on this season and talked about what lies ahead...

Summing up the 2011-12 season...

"There are a lot of good things. Obviously our goal going into the season, was to make the playoffs and that will be our goal again next year. Every year, things don't go exactly as you'd hope. You can look at the statistics and see the areas that we need to improve on or the areas that we weren't good enough in this year as the reasons why we didn't make the playoffs. We overcame a lot of injuries but there are a lot of positive things. Steven Stamkos is a young player getting better and better and will continue to do so. Martin St. Louis had a great year. Vincent Lecavalier before he got hurt was having a very good season. Victor Hedman, in spite of missing a lot of games due to injuries, continues to improve. There are alot of good things happening here.. Down the stretch, with us looking like we were not going to make the playoffs, the way this team stuck together and played and performed and conducted themselves professionally, it was very encouraging for me and will benefit us going forward." - Yzerman

"Our leaders and our young guys will have learned a lot this year, fighting through. It wasn't just fighting through games here and there. It was fighting through the toughest adversities where basically there were some nights when we had no chance to win, and our players still fought. And that's important because next year when I think we'll be better that won't matter in the attitudes of the players during the games, and from game to game, and I think thats probably the biggest thing we can get from this year." - Boucher

On what specifically went wrong with this year's team...

"When you look at our performances on the road, that's what killed us. We were outstanding at home...we started the year with tons of away games...we didn't want those five games on the road but we did choose to be on the road for training camp. That's tough to do both, one after the other, and so maybe that's something we can look into next year. But those are things we can control. Those are easy things to take care of. The ones that are tough are the ones you can't control. I think that's what killed us...It wasn't an awful sense of entitlement, it wasn't like guys were cocky. it's just a subtle confidence, and when confidence becomes arrogance, you meet humility pretty quick. We weren't arrogant but we were a little too confident... You've got to be scared a little bit of the results and I felt that we were a little overconfident in what we could do as a group to start the year as a group. We talked about it but until you get a slap and you realize, 'oh my goodness, we are having problems'; that took a while and after that we were fine.That's going to be important next year but we'll obviously have a different attitude. We'll be hungry for sure." - Boucher

On having to rely heavily on players called up from Norfolk...

"When somebody gets hurt or underperforms, you bring guys up and they get opportunities. All the guys that came up and played had a positive impact, everyone from Norfolk. We've got, as you know, a very good team down there with some very good young players that will push for jobs next year. So we're really pleased with all those guys. We're really encouraged by that. We know we've got players there that can come and help us out and some of those players in Norfolk this year will come here and challenge for jobs next year." - Yzerman

"I think there's a lot of good things coming from the young guys that will play for us later but I think we've got to remind ourselves that the guys that were already here, the established players, they did a lot of good things. The more depth you've got, the less you feel those adversities and injuries throughout the year and thats why I think this year we had more trouble dealing with it. We didn't have any trouble dealing with it in terms of attitude, but in terms of performance and results." - Boucher

On trying to contend now while trying to build for the future at the same time...

"I think I wore a few different hats this year. When you look at the number of players we had here, you've got American Leaguers who've got some experience as a pro but don't have any in the NHL, youve got a guy like Brett Connolly who has no pro experience, you've got guys that come from other teams. it was a real different mix of players at different times. Not just me, the coaching staff and the general manager. We had a long term and a short term approach to pretty much everything this year. Whereas last year, it was more about right now. So I think we worked a lot on now and we worked a lot on the future and things we wanted to improve this year. it makes it more difficult but I certainly think it will be beneficial for the players and the staff because we'll have gained so much on all those fronts. There's a lot of things we've improved on. Sometimes they didn't show but they are going to pay off. I've lived this in the past, Steve has lived this in the past, the guys on our staff. We're sure about one thing: we're gonna be better because of this year. It's not in spite of this year, it's because of this year." - Boucher

On what's next...

"Obviously, we'll look at ways to try and improve the team. We'll take the next couple of weeks to decide what we're going to do with our nine unrestricted free agents, what we want to do with those players and make decisions on that. Then we'll get to work on our three restricted free agents and then start planning for the summer." - Yzerman

"We're going to spend the next week assessing more specifically a lot of things we've done and not done this year. And circumstances we could have controlled and what we couldn't have controlled. There's one thing for sure, if we get adversity like we had this year in the future, we'll be more able to deal with it as players and staff and as an organization." - Boucher

On looking forward to next season...

"There are a lot of good things here and basically our record last year. one win a month is the difference. And when you look at it that way, you try to figure out how to get one more win a month. We need to get our power play back on track, we need to improve our penalty killing, we need to cut down our goals against. If we improve in all those areas, we'll get back there. It's a fine line between missing the playoffs and not missing the playoffs. If we can make some good decisions this summer, we like our nucleus a lot. Our goal again will be to make the playoffs." - Yzerman

"It's huge. Everybody knows it's huge. Its important for me as a coach and for our staff to improve for next year, to make sure we pinpoint the things we want to do and don't want to do. It's important for Steve and the management to focus on the things we need. But I think it's also important for the players to come back hungry and wanting more. I don't think that's going to be a problem." - Boucher