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.
General manager Steve Yzerman landed a pair of prominent free-agent defensemen -- 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.
Several players who starred for Norfolk during the Admirals' historic season in the American Hockey League and Calder Cup championship run could graduate to bolster the Lightning's depth, which has been a serious issue for several years.
The Lightning still have plenty of firepower, and better play at their own end of the ice could mean a return to the postseason.
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - Brett Connolly
Benoit Pouliot - Vladislav Namestnikov - J.T. Brown
Tom Pyatt - Nate Thompson - Adam Hall
B.J. Crombeen - Dana Tyrell
Matt Carle - Eric Brewer
Victor Hedman - Sami Salo
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Brian Lee
NOTES: To be clear, there really aren't forward "lines" in Tampa Bay. Sure, coach Guy Boucher sends three forwards onto the ice at a time, but he doesn't just switch them around from game-to-game or period-to-period -- he'll mix and match on a shift-by-shift basis some nights.
That said, there are some areas of need to fill during training camp. The Lightning need to find a No. 3 center, and a couple of top-nine wings from a collection of younger players. Several key figures from Norfolk's run will be part of the competition. Cory Conacher needs to prove he's more like St. Louis and less like Keith Aucoin, another diminutive dominator at the AHL level. Tyler Johnson faces similar concerns. Richard Panik and Alex Killorn could also squeeze onto the roster.
Brewer and Hedman played together last season, but Boucher's system is pretty unique so he might not want a defense pairing of two guys new to it logging heavy minutes early in the season. Keith Aulie, Matt Taormina and Mark Barberio could end up on the third pairing with a strong camp.
Lindback and Garon will likely split time in the early going, but don't discount Tokarski playing a prominent role for the Lightning at some point.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer