The disappointment was obvious Monday morning as Steve Yzerman addressed reporters on the team’s final day of interviews, as players and coaches packed up their belongings and said their goodbyes before leaving the rink for the summer.
But it wasn’t long into any conversation with the Lightning general manager before one got the sense that the sentiment would be short-lived.
“The reality is that our group will change,” Yzerman said. “How drastically, I’m not sure. But we’ll have some options and we’ll look at the areas that need to be addressed, we’ll have players coming up from Syracuse next year who will have an opportunity to make this team, and head coach Jon Cooper and his staff will have the summer to spend preparing, so things will be different. They need to be different.”
The final outcome perhaps is at least partly responsible for the reason why.
Tampa Bay finished the abbreviated 48-game campaign with a record of 18-26-4, and with 40 points, which ranked third from the bottom in the league.
The team also endured two six-game losing streaks, and one five-game losing streak.
In a way though, all of that perhaps expedited the process of improvement, which begins tonight at the NHL Draft Lottery, where it will be revealed the Lightning’s draft position at the June 30 selection exhibition in New Jersey.
By nature of the final standings, the Bolts have a 14.2 percent chance of earning the first overall pick, but at the very least, will select no lower than fourth in the showcase.
Either way, Yzerman and his staff will nonetheless have the luxury of selecting a player who potentially could make an immediate impact next season, much like Steven Stamkos did after being taken first overall in 2008.
“We’ll see what happens with that, but yeah, I think we can get a pretty good young prospect,” Yzerman said.
If that’s the case, it would be a solid start to the offseason during which Yzerman will continue to evaluate personnel and thus make decisions that will be aimed at improving the roster.
Tampa Bay did finish third in the NHL in goals scored this season with 147, only 19 of which came from defensemen, so it’s safe to say the team is strong at forward. Not to mention, with Yzerman previously stating his plan to move ahead with the tandem of Anders Lindback and Ben Bishop in goal, it seems the Bolts are set at the goaltending position as well.
That leaves only the defense, which Yzerman did not go into specifics about, but did say that he would like to prevent more goals from going in and recording a better differential.
“We know what our goaltending situation is going to be and for the most part, we know what our defense is going to be, but we will look at ways of improving.”
Luckily, Yzerman did note the influx of players from Syracuse who are “pushing” he said, and who he hopes to move ahead with.
The familiarity those players have with Cooper also should make for a more seamless transition, while the head coach continues to evaluate veterans and becomes more familiar with the team’s older players.
Once Yzerman’s work is done for the summer, Cooper will then take over what will be deemed to be an improved roster, and unlike this past season, actually have a full training camp as well as a handful of exhibition games to implement some systems and lay the foundation for how he wants the team to play.
“It’s not fair to judge Jon [Cooper] on just 15 games and with the situation we had when he came in,” Yzerman added. “Over the next few months we’ll come up with a plan for what we want to do. We’ll look at our players and we’ll look at everyone involved on the staff. We’ll have some decisions to make.”
Perhaps ones that are certain to make for a better fate at this time next year.