2013-14 Tampa Bay Lightning Season Preview part 2: Little, yet profound change
Change is a constant in this life, and had been pretty normal for the Tampa Bay Lightning during the off-season. 2013 was much more quiet, but one move in particular was deafening.
A dominant storyline that will keep being mentioned in the preview stories that lead in to the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Lightning season is change. Change is a constant in pro sports; change is a constant in life. We adapt or we cannot survive. This is the way of the natural world.
The 2013 off-season saw the least amount of player movement on the Lightning roster compared to recent years where the defense was revamped and other changes took place.
The summer of 2013 did see a few roster refinements. One departure in particular dominates the team narrative going forward.
Let's start with some bit players of note that are out of Tampacuse; forward J.T. Wyman and defenseman Brendan Mikkelson were let go by the organization. Mikkelson lost a game of musical chairs in Tampa on the underperforming blue-line during the 2013 season and was demoted to Syracuse. Wyman was much the same case - while he was a call-up at one point to Tampa, he lost his ride with the Bolts due to the organization's overall depth at forward.
Away from the bubble players and on to the big club, goaltender Mathieu Garon was allowed to leave via free agency. He had been signed by the club for the backup role in 2011-12 (with expectations of former Bolt Dwayne Roloson to get the bulk of the starts). Garon found himself in the starting role more times than not as Roloson was dreadfully unreliable. That was also the case in 2013 after Anders Lindback went down due to injury. The acquisition of Ben Bishop pretty much signaled the end of Garon's tenure in Tampa. He was in the Los Angeles Kings camp on a try out when last we heard.
On defense, actually nothing changed (this hadn't sat well with fans over the summer). The only move of note was the replacement of assistant coach Dan Lacroix (who had been in charge of the D under head coach Guy Boucher) with former Vancouver Canucks assistant head coach Rick Bowness.
At forward, wing Benoit Pouliot was not tendered a qualifying offer and became an unrestricted free agent (signing with the New York Rangers). Ben seemed to fall out of the mix after an injury sustained last season and then the coaching change from Guy Boucher to Jon Cooper.
That brings us to the most profound "who's out" from 2013 off-season transactions: team captain and
15 14 season Lightning veteran center Vincent Lecavalier. The economics of his 11 year, $85 million contract and cap circumvention finally came due to be truly resolved; under the new NHL CBA, ratified earlier this year, the salary cap reduction and potential penalties if Vinny retired early just made the amount of money under the contract unfeasible. Blame could be assessed to former ownership for signing him to the deal, or perhaps to Lecavalier's own camp for pushing an extended contract (something his agent Kent Hughes had done once before). There's a lot of politics that have been kicked around regarding this buyout, but it's done. It's over. Lecavalier's tenure in Tampa is over. He signed a five year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers after hitting the market.
Vinny's departure leads to questions, such as team leadership (as the captaincy is up for grabs as of this writing) and offensive production. Just who is going to step up and make up the lost productivity?
While I mentioned bit players who had been let go of, I'll skip that with this section because you can't tell if a minor-league pickup is going to end up having value to the big club.
The only major signing by the Lightning during the off-season was Valtteri Filppula, who had been playing for the Detroit Red Wings. Val, who's deal is for five years, will assume the role of second line center that was vacated by way of Lecavalier's buyout. While it's sure to happen, it'll be unfair for Filppula to be compared to Vinny. They're two different players with two different legacies.
One other thing of note with regard to roster changes and who is in: It's still uncertain but any number of Syracuse Crunch starters from 2012-13 may find their way into the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup. As of this writing, forwards Brett Connolly, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik and J.T. Brown are all vying for jobs in Tampa, while Mark Barberio is still in camp and could find his way onto the Lightning blue-line and roster.
There's also 2013 draft pick Jonathan Drouin. The left wing has seen steady minutes in the preseason hile playing out of position (he's been slotted at center). It's unclear if he'll be playing on opening night, or if he'll stick with the club for longer than a few games before being returned to the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL.