We’re into the height of the offseason and quite frankly, there isn’t much to talk about. So I put the years that the Lightning have existed into a random number picker to pick out a year that we could review. Ironically, the first selection was the 2004-05 season... whelp... that quick.
I spun again and got the 2011-12 NHL Season. So let’s look back at that season, what happened, and just remember some times. If you want to see more of this, let me know in the comments and we’ll see about doing some other random seasons before training camp and the real fun of the NHL season starts.
The Previous Season
The 2010-11 season was a transitional one for the Lightning. Jeff Vinik bought the team in March 2010 and soon after hired Steve Yzerman to be the General Manager for the Lightning. Yzerman hired Guy Boucher out of the QMJHL to be the head coach and went about making some moves before and during the season to bolster a roster that had some aging stars, some young stars, and a lot of middling players in between. The Lightning surprised many by going 46-25-11 and finishing 2nd in the old Southeast Division to make the playoffs (preseason odds placed their total points at 92.5 and they ended up with 103). They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games in the first round, swept the Washington Capitals in the second round, and lost a heartbreaking game seven to the Boston Bruins who went on to win the Stanley Cup.
During the offseason, the Lightning re-signed Eric Brewer, whom the team had acquired at the trade deadline from the St. Louis Blues. The scouting staff had one of their best showings of the Vinik Era drafting Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat at the draft. The team also re-signed Bruno Gervais, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Adam Hall before free agency opened up. Another mid-season trade acquisition, Dwayne Roloson, also re-signed to a one-year contract to continue in net for the Lightning.
In free agency, the most significant losses for the Lightning were Simon Gage and Sean Bergenheim who both played roles in the middle six forward group for the Lightning with Bergenheim in particular coming up big during the playoffs which led to him signing a nice contract in the offseason to leave the Lightning.
The other signings the Lightning made were not big impact signings, other than getting restricted free agent contracts done for Steven Stamkos and Teddy Purcell. Other than that, most of the free agents signed were depth players to fill out the roster.
The season? Well, it didn’t go super great. Only Steven Stamkos, Eric Brewer, and Brett Clark played in every game, with Teddy Purcell missing just one game. Only six players played more than 70 games. Ryan Malone missed 14 games. Vincent Lecavalier missed 18 games. Victor Hedman missed 21 games. Just a lot of injuries all over the roster.
Dwayne Roloson couldn’t match the performance he had put up after being acquired in the previous season and posted a 13-16-3 record in 31 stars and 40 games played with an .886 SV% and 3.66 GAA. Mathieu Garon, a free agent signing to be Roloson’s back-up, posted a .901 SV% and 2.85 GAA, giving the team marginally better but still not great goaltending, and went 23-16-4 in 44 stars and 48 games played.
On the positive side though, Steven Stamkos had one of the best goal scoring seasons of the Salary Cap Era posting 60 goals. Alex Ovechkin had scored 65 goals in 2007-08 and Auston Matthews just achieved 60 goals this past season. Those are the only three 60 goal seasons in the salary cap era. A couple things to point out is that Matthews did it in only 73 games played, but also in a season where scoring was significantly up. The other is that Stamkos hit 60 goals in a season where goal scoring was a lot harder.
To give some perspective to that, in Ovechkin’s 65 goal season, three players scored 50+ and 10 players scored 40+ goals. In Stamkos’ 60 goal season, two players scored 50+ and only four players scored 40+ goals. Ovechkin actually only managed 38 goals, 5th best in the NHL, in 2011-12. This past season, four players scored 50+ goals (including Ovechkin) and 17 players scored 40+ goals (including Stamkos).
Stamkos getting to the 60th goal was actually a bit of a dramatic moment. The very last game of the season for the Lightning was being played in Winnipeg. Also to add oddity, the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to become the Winnipeg Jets, but the divisions did not re-align immediately so this was a Divisional game playing in Central Canada. Stamkos entered the third period of the game still sitting on 59 goals for the season and scored on a wrist shot 3:29 into the third period off a feed from Martin St. Louis.
I have to give a nod here to the Winnipeg Jets fans recognizing the significance of the goal and giving Stamkos a standing ovation.
But that was pretty much the only real highlight in an otherwise forgettable season.
Stamkos won the Rocket Richard for the second time in his career and placed second in the Hart Trophy voting. If the Lightning had made it to the playoffs, it’s likely his 60 goal season would have got him the win over Evgeni Malkin who won the Art Ross with 109 points. That was Stamkos’ only Hart Trophy finalist finish in his career.
Before we got to the half-way point of the season, Steve Yzerman got ahead of some upcoming offseason work by signing Dana Tyrell and Victor Hedman to extensions before they because restricted free agents. Pierre-Cedric Labrie was signed to a two-year entry level contract just before New Year’s due to his performance in the AHL. He would later play a season for the Lightning in a fourth line, enforcer role.
At the trade deadline, the Lightning picked up some future pieces, moving on from some expiring contracts and making some other general moves. The first move came when the Lightning traded center Dominic Moore and a 7th round pick to the San Jose Sharks for a 2012 second round pick. A couple days later, the Lightning shipped Pavel Kubina off to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 2012 second round pick and 2013 fourth round pick and Jon Kalinski. Yzerman also acquired a couple of depth defensemen in Brian Lee (who got the secondary assist on Stamkos’ 60th goal) and Keith Aulie for Matt Gilroy and Carter Ashton respectively.
The big trade though. The big one. This was the franchise changing trade. Yzerman sent forward Steve Downie to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defenseman Kyle Quincey. Which was confusing when the news first broke. But shortly after, he flipped Quincey to the Detroit Red Wings for a 1st round pick. That made more sense after that happened.
What changed the franchise though was who that pick was used for...
Yup. That one. The Big Cat. The two-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender. You know him. You love him. That story starts with the 2011-12 season and the Lightning not being very good in net, and not being a very competitive team.
During March of 2012, Yzerman got a couple of college players signed to entry level contracts. First up with Alex Killorn, a 2007 third round pick and you should hopefully know the story of Killorn since then. He joined the Norfolk Admirals for their playoff run and then played the first half of 2012-13 with the Syracuse Crunch before making it to the NHL full time. Yzerman was also able to lure NCAA free agent J.T. Brown to the Lightning and as part of the agreement to sign, Brown made his NHL debut, immediately burning the first year of his entry-level contract.
Another piece of significant work that Yzerman got done towards the end of the season was signing Cory Conacher to an NHL contract. Conacher would make the Lightning roster the next season and then be traded to the Ottawa Senators for Ben Bishop. Yup. Bish. Big Ben. That goaltender.
So yeah, this season and the transactions made during it had a big impact down the line for the Lightning and getting them to back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. It may have been a forgettable season on the ice, outside of Stamkos scoring 60 goals, but man, some things happened. Like really happened that were big for the franchise moving forward.