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This week's topic: Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was busy re-shaping the Bolts' roster around the NHL Draft and during free agency.
Which new Bolt (Garrison, Stralman, Boyle, Nabokov) do you look forward to watching the most?
Anton Stralman has been a fancy stat darling for a while now, and his breakout campaign in 2013-14 with the New York Rangers solidified him as one of the best puck possession defensemen in the NHL. He'd be my choice for who I'm looking forward to seeing in a Lightning jersey next year. Nearly every other Ranger skater last season had a better share of shot attempts (Corsi %) with Stralman than they did without him, which indicates he makes his teammates better. The little things he does well may not show up on the box score, but he's efficient with the puck and skillful in moving it out of trouble, into the offensive third, and keeping it there. Either alongside Victor Hedman or Matt Carle, the Lightning are sure to have an effective puck possession unit that will help tilt the ice in the Bolts' favor.
While all are great players, with the ability to help an already stacked team talent-wise, I look forward to watching Garrison the most. His career plus-22 rating in four of six NHL seasons is extremely impressive, especially considering he spent four years on teams sitting fairly deep in the league cellar. He can also provide some offense, mainly on the man-advantage, evidenced by two seasons with more than half the amount of his total goals coming on the power play. With the Lightning, I see him fitting in alongside Victor Hedman and possibly feeding Steven Stamkos or Ondrej Palat on the No.1 unit. However, it's possible he slots in on the second unit, helping to feed a Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn or possibly 2013 third overall draft pick Jonathan Drouin. The possibilities are endless, but one thing remains certain: Garrison's presence will help provide a power play threat from the blueline, something the Lightning struggled to find during the 2013-14 season.
There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the Lightning’s free agency activity. Steve Yzerman seems to have addressed the big issues that were hanging over the team heading into next season. The Bolts have signed two veteran blueliners to solidify the defense. They have also brought in a veteran netminder who can mentor Ben Bishop and contribute between the pipes when needed. All of this is great and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes together on the ice. If I had to pick one of the new Bolts that I am most excited to see as part of the Lightning I have to go with forward Brian Boyle.
Boyle scored six goals and 12 assists in 82 games last season. He also brings 58 games of playoff experience which will be invaluable to the Lightning’s young group of forwards. The Rangers’ leader in hits through the 2014 playoffs, he adds a physical edge that the Lightning are leaning towards.
All of this is awesome, but the main reason I’m excited to see Boyle in Tampa is character. It’s pretty much unanimous among guys he has played with that he’s a fantastic teammate both on and off the ice. The hockey world got a glimpse of this when the Rangers’ Christmas party was featured in HBO’s 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic several years ago. Boyle was famously dressed in a costume that looked like it came straight out of Elf. The hockey season is long and every locker room needs a character to keep things light. Boyle is just the guy do to that.
The obvious answer here is probably Anton Stralman, but I’m going to go in another direction. Why? Because I feel like we know what we’re going to get with the Swedish blueliner. He’s been a consistent, solid possession player with a knack for playing smart defense over the last few years. That signing was arguably the smartest out of every signing made on July 1st.
So, with that said, I’m going to pick Jason Garrison. I’m excited to see what he might be able to bring to a Lightning power play that struggled mightily for parts of last season. While he’s not the most physical player or the fastest player out on the ice, Garrison is a player who can make a difference. We all remember his 16-goal season with the Panthers in 2011-12; the potential for him to be a key cog in the Lightning’s machine is certainly there.
In addition, and like Stralman, Garrison has generally been a positive possession player over the last few seasons. With the exception of his one year under John Tortorella, Garrison helped to drive the bus on the blue line in both Vancouver and Florida. It’s also worth mentioning that some of this success came under the direction of Rick Bowness, who is now with the Lightning.
All in all, I think there are a number of reasons to be excited about watching Garrison play. He should be a great addition to the team’s top-four.
The new member of the Lightning that I think fans should look forward to most is Anton Stralman. Stralman proved during his time with the New York Rangers that he can be a stable defensive presence on a defensive corps.
One of the things to look for is who head coach Jon Cooper pairs him up with. Does he pair him up with Victor Hedman or does he try and help Matt Carle rebound a bit and give those two time together. I would lean towards him being paired up with Carle as Carle really suffered puck possession-wise last year.
Not only that but Stralman did earn his pay day and now it's time to see what he does in the first year of the five-year contract he signed with the Lightning.
I'm looking forward in equal parts to seeing what Garrison and Stralman bring in terms of improving our defense. If there was a unit that really needed a significant upgrade going from last season into this one, it had to be the defense. Garrison brings size and Stralman's puck possession is top notch. On paper, the blueline is definitely better now. Seeing how it actually works out when these two hit the ice should be a lot of fun.