When Steve Yzerman took over as the Tampa Bay Lightning GM last season, big things were expected from the Detroit Red Wing icon. All Yzerman did was build a team that put together their second-best season in franchise history and came one game short of going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2004.
From his decision to hire coach Guy Boucher prior to the season, to the trade he negotiated with the New York Islanders for goalie Dwayne Roloson on New Year’s Day, Yzerman looked like Brian Burke his first season in Tampa. Only now he has the daunting task of improving a team that far exceeded all expectations last season.
Yzerman’s first big step this offseason in preparing a team to compete for the Cup was getting NHL 12 cover boy Steven Stamkos, whose 96 goals over the past two seasons led the League, to sign a five-year, $37.5 million deal. However, Stamkos’ huge contract, in combination from all of the dollars already going to Marty St. Louis and captain Vinny Lecavalier, prevented Yzerman and the Lightning from keeping everyone on the roster. Several key players who signed with other teams over the offseason were forwards Simon Gagne (Los Angeles) and Sean Bergenheim (Florida) defenseman Randy Jones (Winnipeg) and goaltender Mike Smith (Phoenix).
While none of the mentioned names can be considered stars, they were key contributors to the Lightning’s success last season, especially down the stretch of the playoffs. The Lightning did their best to fill those depth positions by signing Mathieu Garon to backup Roloson, as well forwards Trevor Smith, Tom Pyatt, J.T. Wyman, Ryan Shannon and defenseman Matt Gilroy.
Even if the arrival of depth players can’t contribute on the same level offensively as the group from last season, the Lightning still boast one of the top lines in the NHL with Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier. The Lightning are also hoping Roloson can once again hold down things between the pipes; however, he is 42 entering this season and looked worn down at times during the postseason last year. There’s no reason to believe that the Lightning can’t capture the Southeast Division in 2011-12, but the departure of their depth players looks reminiscent of the Chicago Blackhawks Cup-winning team from 2010. They too lost several depth players over the offseason and barely qualified for the playoffs last season.
Yzerman and the Lightning hope they will not have the same fate.