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 of the previous season may have created unrealistic expectations.
"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."
The Lightning lost 321 man-games to injury, their highest total since losing 351 during the 2008-09 season. Key losses came in all areas, including defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Victor Hedman; forwards Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone and Adam Hall; and goalie Mathieu Garon.
The first order of offseason business general manager Steve Yzerman attended to was upgrading the back end -- the club ranked 30th in the NHL with 278 non-shootout goals allowed. Yzerman acquired goalie Anders Lindback in a trade with the Nashville Predators and signed the 24-year-old to a two-year contract. The idea, it seems, is to have Lindback grow into the No. 1 role while splitting duty with Garon.
Lindback spent a portion of the work stoppage in Finland playing for Ilves Tampere. In 16 games last season with the Predators, he was 5-8-0 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .912 save percentage as the backup to Pekka Rinne. The 6-foot-6, 203-pound goalie has appeared in 38 NHL games, all with Nashville, going 16-13-2 with a 2.53 GAA and .914 save percentage.
"My dream all my life has been to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL and I think I have a great opportunity to be that in Tampa Bay," Lindback said over the summer.
The Bolts emphasis on defense will help Martin St. Louis focus on the offensive game
Tampa Bay also bolstered its prospect pool between the pipes at the 2012 NHL Draft, choosing Andrey Vasilevskiy with the 19th selection. The 6-foot-3, 204-pound Russian helped his country to a silver medal at the 2012 World Junior Championship, going 4-1 with a 2.01 GAA, .953 save percentage and two shutouts, and followed that up by posting a 1.81 GAA and .950 save percentage as Russia captured bronze at the recently completed 2013 WJC.
Yzerman also signed defensemen Sami Salo, Matt Carle and Matt Taormina. With the acquisitions of Salo and Carle, the GM locked up a pair of top-four defenders. Carle, who spent the previous four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, was signed to a six-year deal.
"We are comfortable with him in our top four. [Carle] can play in all situations and he takes pressure off some of our younger guys," Yzerman said during the summer.
The Lightning also added forwards B.J. Crombeen, Benoit Pouliot and Kyle Wilson via trades, and re-signed Teddy Purcell, who was coming off a career season with 24 goals and 65 points skating primarily alongside Lecavalier.
Pouliot, acquired from the Boston Bruins in exchange for forward Michel Ouellet and a 2012 fifth-round pick, signed a one-year deal July 1.
"He's a big guy (6-3, 199) who can skate, who has good hands and who is still relatively young," Yzerman said of Pouliot, 25. "We think he can play among the top nine and really help us, and we still think he has potential to become better."
In addition to Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay was thrilled to land defenseman Slater Koekkoek of the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League with the 10th pick at the draft -- the first of its two first-round picks.
"He's a terrific skater, a very good puck-mover and he's a puck-rusher, he can play on the power play, he gets his shot through to the net or gets it into the passing lanes, and he's a terrific 1-on-1 player defensively who keeps a real tight gap," Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray said. "He keeps his stick on pucks and finishes his checks very well."
Forward J.T. Brown, who scored 24 goals in 39 games last season for the University of Wisconsin and added an assist in five games for the Lightning after signing as a free agent, suffered a broken collarbone in an AHL game on Dec. 28 and could miss up to eight weeks.
Tampa Bay's top affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, has been among the AHL's top teams this season with Brett Connolly ranking second on the club in scoring with 28 points (12 goals) in 31 games. Connolly, the No. 6 pick in 2010 by the Lightning, played 68 games last season in the NHL as a 19-year-old, recording four goals and 15 points, but will stay in the AHL for now. Goaltender Dustin Tokarski, who has played in seven NHL games with the Lightning, is among the AHL leaders in wins.
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Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer