The defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning hosted media day at Amalie Arena on Thursday, signaling the unofficial start to the 2015-16 season. Players shuttled between taking their physicals, filling out paper work and getting headshots taken. In a lot of ways, it felt like the first day of school for players and staff alike.
In between administrative tasks, the Bolts took time to speak to the media. Here are some of the highlights from an entertaining first day back at Amalie.
The Long Road Ahead
To a man, each Lightning player spoke about how this season will be more challenging than last season. The Bolts will have a giant target on their back after advancing to the Stanley Cup Final they said.
“Teams are going to be gunning for you,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “They know what to expect when they play against you. It’s tough…We have to be ready for that. We have to learn from the experiences that we went through in the playoffs and knowing how to win.”
Last season, the Lightning might have snuck up on a few teams thinking the Bolts were still too young and a year or two away from being a serious contender.
After setting franchise records for wins and points in 2014-15, the Lightning are expecting to get every team’s best shot.
“We’re not going to surprise anybody,” Ryan Callahan said. “Everybody’s going to realize when they come in here that we’re a good team.”
A Fire Inside
The Lightning don’t have to worry about motivation this season. Coming so close to hoisting the Stanley Cup and falling two games short is all the incentive they need to return even hungrier in 2015-16.
“We thought we had fuel going into last year, losing four straight against Montreal [in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals],” Callahan said. “I think it’s even bigger this year.”
Change of Heart
Following the Game 6 Stanley Cup Final loss to Chicago, Stamkos wondered out loud whether it was worth it to go that far and not win. After having some time to reflect, Stamkos’ stance softened.
“The great memories that you have from that run, it was definitely worth it. You never know if you’re going to get that chance again. Hopefully, we do. We have the group to do that, but I learned so much about myself, I learned so much about my teammates and, as a team, we learned a lot about what we can accomplish when we’re all on the same page doing what we learned throughout the year. It was an unbelievable experience, and hopefully not the last one.”
The Long and Short of It
Tyler Johnson followed Brian Boyle in speaking to the media. When Johnson got behind the podium, the microphones were pointed up high for Boyle, obscuring Johnson’s face and making the 5-foot-8 All-Star center feel even shorter.
“Where’s the step stool?” Johnson deadpanned.
“You’re not supposed to make short jokes about yourself,” a journalist offered.
“You have to do it first before someone else does,” Johnson suggested.
The Gang’s All Here
Familiar faces were everywhere walking through the corridor between the locker room and the different media stations.
Tyler Johnson stood in front of a green screen having his intro image taken.
Ondrej Palat was around the corner shooting video for Fox Sports Sun.
In a hallway, Valtteri Filppula, Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman hung out, waiting their turn in line for pictures.
The Bolts return in 2015-16 virtually intact, save for Brenden Morrow and Mark Barberio.
“To be able to bring back the same guys and kind of not have that learning curve at the beginning of the season, it’s awesome,” Johnson said.
There weren’t a lot of tweaks to the Lightning lineup in the offseason because, frankly, not many were needed.
“It’s not every year you have the same team in this league with the salary cap. To have pretty much the same group is a good thing and shows that management believes in this group,” Victor Hedman said. “We had a good run last year and gained a lot of experience. Hopefully, we can transfer that to this year.”
The New Guy
Erik Condra, who spent the first five seasons of his NHL career with the Ottawa Senators, is the lone newcomer the Lightning picked up in the offseason during free agency that is expected to be a regular in the lineup.
Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said Condra is a “really smart player” who gives the team plenty of options.
“He’s proven in this league that he can kill penalties,” Cooper said. “He can play on power plays when called in a pinch. He’s a right-handed shot, and we seem to not have a ton of right-handed shots in the past. He’s got a younger legs. He’s hungry.”
Cooper watched Condra during Ottawa’s late regular-season run to make the postseason and said the 29-year-old displayed a number of intangibles that allowed the Senators to find success.
“You look back to Ottawa’s games when they were playing late in the season and into the playoffs, you look at the guys that were out there protecting the lead in the last minute, go-to guys getting big minutes down the stretch, Erik Condra was one of them,” Cooper said. “We’re hopeful he can do that with us.”
Johnson was asked if he happened to catch a replay of any of the Stanley Cup Final games while he was back home in Spokane during the summer. Johnson initially replied no before saying, “My dad was actually watching it one day, and I just walked out of the house.”
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said the injury to goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis, who is fighting for the backup spot behind Ben Bishop while Andrei Vasilevskiy recovers from surgery to remove a blood clot near his collarbone, is short term, and the Latvian national should be back on the ice at some point next week.
“We don’t anticipate it’ll be a long thing,” Yzerman said.
Yzerman also said Johnson and Ben Bishop should be on ice for the first day of actual skating on Friday. Both Johnson (wrist) and Bishop (groin) had to play through injuries during the Stanley Cup Final.
“Tyler and Ben are fine to start tomorrow, to the best of my knowledge. Again, I’ll do a little recap with (head athletic trainer) Tom (Mulligan) after this afternoon to make sure everybody’s good to go and make sure nothing else has come up.”