Believe it or not, there was a silver lining peering out amongst the shades of black and blue that appeared this past season as a result of the numerous injuries throughout the Lightning lineup.
Despite serving as a cause of adversity, the team’s 321 man-games lost to injury – its most since it had 351 during the 2008-09 season – also allowed Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman to assess the organization’s depth, as more and more players from the club’s top affiliate in Norfolk of the American Hockey League continued to get the call up to the NHL to fill open roster spaces.
While Tampa Bay’s depth is indeed much improved, it still isn’t quite where it needs to be, which made not just the number of games lost so important for the Lightning, but also who in particular was lost.
Defenseman Mattias Ohlund missed all of the team’s 82 regular-season games, while Victor Hedman missed 13 games due to a concussion, and an additional eight at various times throughout the season because of an upper body injury.
The injury to captain Vincent Lecavalier, meanwhile, perhaps couldn’t have come at a worse time, as he sustained a broken hand on Feb. 18, just as the Lightning seemed to be gaining a head of steam to make a late-season playoff push. He missed 18 games, while wing Ryan Malone missed 14 on the year.
There was also the team’s best faceoff man, Adam Hall, who was absent for a total of 21 games on the season, which accounted for 16 more than Martin St. Louis and just five more than goaltender Mathieu Garon.
Chock it all up to Trevor Smith, Dustin Tokarski, Evan Oberg, Mike Angelidis, Pierre-Cedric Labrie and JT Wyman being recalled at one point or another from Norfolk of the AHL. There was also Brendan Mikkelson and Keith Aulie, who were acquired via trades, but they too spent some time during the season in the minors.
For all, it was an opportunity to show what each brought to the table at the NHL level, but it was also an audition.
“Every single night I had to go out there and try to prove myself,” Smith said. “There are no guarantees in this game, so just because you have a few good games, it doesn’t mean you’re going to stick around a while. You have to keep working hard and continue to improve each day.”
Smith is a versatile forward who showed glimpses of that same offensive skills set that had him rank sixth in points among all AHL skaters this past season. Tokarski, for the most part, also played well in net in five games with the Lightning that saw him collect his first career NHL victory on Mar. 13 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins.
Oberg, meanwhile, only cracked the lineup three times throughout the season, whereas Mikkelson proved to be one of the more solid pickups over the course of the year, who also displayed good smarts with the puck and even earned some time on the power play.
Angelidis served as a fourth-line grinder, and while Aulie and Labrie both brought size and a physical style of play to the team, Wyman emerged as more of a jack-of-all-trades type who was often called upon to kill penalties, play against top lines and bring energy as a fourth-line forward.
“Playing to earn a spot is what keeps me driven,” Wyman told The Tampa Tribune earlier this season. “You have to always be fighting whether it's for a spot on the ice or for something else.”
For Wyman, Smith, Angelidis, Oberg, Mikkelson and Aulie, that “something else” could mean contracts.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie brought size and a physical style of play during callups. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Each of their respective deals is set to expire on Jun. 30 of this year, and while some have restricted free agent status, Lightning management will still be put in the position of soon having to make decisions about whether each individual fits into the team’s future plans.
Labrie and Tokarski, meanwhile, each have one more year remaining on their contracts, giving them the benefit of having the upcoming season to further state a case for themselves.
But despite not knowing what the future holds, each can at least take solace in knowing that he made the most of his opportunity to give himself a fair chance to be a part of it.