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30 in 30

Lightning still have plenty of firepower in lineup

Wednesday, 08.22.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

After the Tampa Bay Lightning were the darlings of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, coming within one goal of reaching the Cup Final with a new general manager and new coach, they crashed out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference last season.

The defense corps was never whole because of an injury to Matthias Ohlund, and a thin group was crippled by further absences. The goaltending was terrible, and a strong offense wasn't enough to compensate.

GM Steve Yzerman landed a pair of prominent free-agent defensemen in Matt Carle and Sami Salo to help shore up the blue line. Anders Lindback could be the long-term solution in net, though Dustin Tokarski might still have something to say about that.

Lightning hope to find success with rebuilt back end

Wednesday, 08.22.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

One season removed from battling all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning took a significant step backward in 2011-12 when they finished eight points back of the conference's final playoff spot.

Lightning coach Guy Boucher told reporters on breakup day that the unexpected success the previous season may have placed unrealistic expectations on the 2011-12 season.

"The reality is we didn't have the same team and we had injuries to start the year, so you have to be scared a little bit of the results," Boucher told the team's website. "I felt we were overconfident at the start of the year as a group. We weren't arrogant, just a little too overconfident."

Lightning have questions in goal, along blue line

Wednesday, 08.22.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman reacted to the disappointment of missing out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs as any top decision-maker within an organization would -- with a few big changes.

Not surprisingly, the retooling began with some significant moves in goal and along the blue line. Considering the Lightning finished last in the League with a 3.39 goals-against average and 26th on the penalty-kill with a 79.2-percent efficiency, it's no wonder he decided to begin upgrading his club from the goal cage on out.

Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier is confident the team will rebound.

"We played hard every night and I thought we really finished [last season] strong," Lecavalier told the Lightning website. "I think we can take the positives out of [last] season and use them to our advantage to get back to the playoffs next year."

Lightning believe Hedman will continue to improve

Wednesday, 08.22.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Victor Hedman
Defense - TBL
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 23
SOG: 82 | +/-: -9
When Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman re-signed defenseman Victor Hedman to a five-year contract last November, he did so with a keen eye towards the future.

Yzerman no doubt believes Hedman, the second pick of the 2009 Draft, will at some point become the foundation of the organization's defense.

While that may be true, Hedman has had to deal with his share of growing pains in his initial three seasons with the Lightning. In 2011-12, for example, he missed 13 games with a concussion and an additional eight at various times throughout the year because of an upper-body injury.

Vasilevskiy leads Bolts' group of prospects

Wednesday, 08.22.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Andrey Vasilevskiy led Russia to a bronze medal at the 2011 U-18 World Championship, finishing 4-2 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. (Photo: Gregg Forwerck/NHLI)

The prospect pool in Tampa Bay is slowly growing to the delight of Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and director of amateur scouting Al Murray.

That's particularly encouraging when you consider the organization will be holding auditions for two wings and a third-line center during training camp.

"In the last two drafts and with some free-agent signings, we filled a lot holes that were in the organization," Murray told NHL.com. "There were some holes in goal and on defense and also down the middle and we've added some wingers as well. I think with the combination of free agent signings from college and junior, and our last two drafts, we've balanced things out pretty good and our top end is pretty respectable."

Yzerman filled his short-term needs in goal, and also took care of a few long-term requirements with the drafting of a few high-end defensemen in the 2012 Draft. His first three picks, in fact, were two defenders and a goaltender.

Wild count on big-ticket signings to fuel rebound

Tuesday, 08.21.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Schiazza - NHL.com Staff Writer

Exactly one week before Christmas 2011, the Minnesota Wild had the best record in the NHL at 20-8-5.

Fast forward to July 4, 2012, and the same club that finished the season at 35-36-11 was at the top of the NHL heap again -- for their twin signings of the most coveted free agents on the market, left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.

Now they just need to make the playoffs.

After its sensational start, Minnesota collapsed and missed the postseason for a fourth straight season, finishing 14 points out of the eighth seed in posting its worst record since the 2001-02 season. The team was saddled with 395 man-games lost to injury and used an NHL-high 47 players last season as key cogs Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi and the since-departed Guillaume Latendresse and Greg Zanon spent time on the injured list.

The injuries were the biggest reason the Wild averaged a League-low 2.02 goals per game – and fueled a 11-28-7 finish that dropped them to 12th in the Western Conference.

"It was," said general manager Chuck Fletcher, "a tale of two seasons."

Are expectations too high in Minnesota?

Tuesday, 08.21.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Schiazza - NHL.com Staff Writer

The Minnesota Wild's summer was highlighted by the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the top two free agents on the market. The question for the fall and winter is exactly what effect the newcomers will have on a team that has failed to make the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.

Though the Wild's forward corps is deeper and has an abundance of prospects with offensive flair who may be able to step right in, no one knows whether the team will resemble coach Mike Yeo's hard-driving squad that was at the top of the league in December, or the one that collapsed in the second half.

Here are the six most pressing questions for the Wild:

1. Will the arrival of Parise and Suter mean a return to the playoffs?

Championships are never won in the offseason, but there is the temptation to instantly anoint the Wild as a playoff team because of their free-agent bonanza.

Parise, Granlund expected to bolster Wild's lines

Tuesday, 08.21.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

The Minnesota Wild made some big acquisitions last summer, but Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi weren't able to propel the club back into the postseason.

Those additions were augmented in a big way during this offseason, and the expectations in the Twin Cities have been elevated. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were the top free agent at their positions, and general manager Chuck Fletcher swooped in and collected both on 13-year contracts.

There are some tantalizing young talents on the way as well, but the big club is crowded with guaranteed contracts at this point. Mikael Granlund is expected to earn a spot in the opening-night lineup, but if others prove they belong, Fletcher might have to make a deal(s) to open roster spaces.

The Wild also bolstered their forward depth by adding Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka as free agents. Suter will anchor a young defense, while Josh Harding was re-signed to pair with Niklas Backstrom.

Granlund leads harvest of youth gone Wild

Tuesday, 08.21.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Schiazza - NHL.com Staff Writer

After four consecutive years of missing the playoffs and accumulating draft picks quickly, the Minnesota Wild may be about to start reaping benefits.

There is considerable talent in abundance for all positions on the ice that can grow together, with prime-aged stars like Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter signed long term as pillars on which the prospects can lean. Now all the team has to do is watch its young hopefuls earn their way into the lineup as roles slowly start to open up.

"It's hard to know exactly how much these kids will do,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said at the end of a disappointing 2011-12 season. "I'm not expecting, I'm hoping for one or two surprises. We're not going to put anyone on the team -- they'll have to earn it."

One of second-year coach Mike Yeo's tenets since taking over has been to change the culture of the team, where players see themselves and their team as winners and expect to win, as Yeo witnessed during his days in Pittsburgh as an assistant coach. Fortunately for the Wild, most of their top youngsters will arrive having already experienced the process of winning championships and gold medals at their levels. If the club can eventually guide them into helping to do the same at the premium NHL level, there potentially may be a new powerhouse in the West in the near future.

With nearly their full draft class from 2010 signed and showing promise, tough decisions loom for Minnesota's coaches and management until there is more room on the roster or injuries create opportunities.

Heatley looks for rebound after worst season

Tuesday, 08.21.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Schiazza - NHL.com Staff Writer

For all of the ballyhoo the Minnesota Wild received after landing the two premium free agents this summer in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, it’s easy to forget that they already had a two-time 50-goal scorer in the fold.

Dany Heatley figures to benefit most from the free-agent arrivals following a second straight season in which his goal-scoring dipped.

Heatley is one of the NHL’s top 10 leaders in total points, power-play goals and game-winning goals since 2001. He’s had back-to-back 100-point seasons and won a gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics. But a hefty $7.5 million cap hit and five straight seasons of declining production are red flags on Heatley, who is still just 31 years old.

Though Heatley led the Wild in scoring with a career-low 24 goals and 53 points, the absence of center Mikko Koivu for 27 games put a damper on his production. Without Koivu to get him the puck and no accomplished center to collaborate with, opposing teams would zero in on Heatley, who was hampered also by a knee injury as the Wild missed the playoffs.

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