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2013 Tampa Bay Lightning season preview part 4: Lightning team depth and predictions

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In the fourth and final part of our 2013 Tampa Bay Lightning season preview, we highlight the roster and give a final prediction on the season ahead.

"These Raw Charge fellows are on to me, they know I juggle lines..."
"These Raw Charge fellows are on to me, they know I juggle lines..."
Bruce Bennett

It was all ironed out around noon on Thursday, January 17th. This is your 2013 Tampa Bay Lightning.

These line combos aren't necessarily accurate or locked in stone (after all, Guy Boucher doesn't utilize the traditional left-center-right combos with forwards, and often changes up lines), but despite the uncertainty what Boucher's imagination may concoct, the following is the full roster of 23 players that the Lightning carry into opening night:

Ryan Malone - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Cory Conacher - Vincent Lecavalier - Teddy Purcell
Benoit Pouliot - Tom Pyatt - B.J. Crombeen
Adam Hall - Nate Thompson - Dana Tyrell
Pierre-Cedric Labrie

I doubt very much that Labrie was retained by the Lightning after camp to sit in the press box. How and where he rotates into the lineup remains unclear at this point - but he'll likely see the majority of his playing time in an agitator role on the 3rd line.

On defense, without the pairings necessarily being correct:

Matt Carle - Eric Brewer
Victor Hedman - Sami Salo
Brian Lee - Keith Aulie
Brendan Mikkelson - Marc-Andre Bergeron

Bergeron will likely play mostly as a 7th defenseman in the lineup when Boucher opts for an 11 forward, 7 defenseman lineup. Brendan Mikkelson, Keith Aulie and others will rotate through the lineup. Mikkelson had played during the lockout in Sweden and that may put him on the 3rd pairing on opening night. A ninth defenseman, Mattias Ohlund, will go to long term injured reserve immediately.

As for goaltending, it's pretty straight forward:

Anders Lindback
Mathieu Garon

No one has said who starts opening night, but the season starts with Lindback and Garon on even footing.

Reservists: Evan Oberg and Matt Taormina are probably the first guys who will show up in Tampa if the defense gets banged up, but they're likely just to be around for insurance. Brett Connolly will likely return to Tampa Bay when a top eight forward is sidelined by injury. Kyle Wilson, J.T. Wyman, Tyler Johnson, or Ondrej Palat could also be recalled if the need requires it. I don't expect first year pros Alex Killorn or Vladislav Namestnikova to be rushed for an appearance with the Lightning (given the club's habit for letting players get at least a full season under their belt). I'm also deliberately leaving J.T. Brown off this list as he is mending form a broken collar-bone.

Predictions

This is not a normal season, and for those predicting continuity from last season among NHL clubs may be in for a rude awakening. I'm prepared to dismiss a lot of experts' predictions on how the chips will fall because ... well, we just don't know after 4 months of the majority of NHL players being idle (while a minority played in other leagues both foreign and domestic).

The Lightning ended the season 8 points out of a playoff spot, in a Southeast Division where it seemed no one wanted to be crowned champion. Now take into consideration the Washington has changed coaches and will have a shorter adjustment time, Carolina has largely revamped its roster, and I think everything is up for grabs.

The 2013 lockout-shortened season is a sprint. There will be minimum adjustment time and a negligible learning curve. In that regard, the Lightning could find themselves in a predicament if Anders Lindback struggles. Adjustment period issues also pertain to Matt Carle and Sami Salo in the 1-3-1 scheme and the general Lightning defense.

The team will rely on Steven Stamkos' offensive prowess yet again, but with a dependence on a healthy and producing 2nd line with Teddy Purcell, Vincent Lecavalier and rookie Cory Conacher as well.

My prediction is Tampa Bay makes the playoffs, but I also think everyone (experts holding to thoughts hatched during the summer of 2012) will be wrong if they assume the general order of where teams finish in the Southeast and overall NHL. This is a year where last place teams may rule the roost, and titans find themselves musing about draft order instead of the 2013 playoffs.