During every summer in the National Hockey League, fans of all teams want always want to project who will be in the starting lineup, and who will be on a plane back to the minors. This year is no different so it’s my turn to play coach and turn the Tampa Bay Lightning into a winner again.
The great part about hockey is that anyone can make the big league squad no matter what you have done in the past. Lightning fans might remember Mike Lundin, Mathieu Darche, Paul Ranger surprising management by making the team. Each year is different and history is thrown right out the window. The Lightning has so many options this year which makes a whole lot of potential lineups. I believe that I can pinpoint what the eventual opening night team should be based on multiple factors. This will be a short two part series with Goalies and Defensemen being analyzed today. On Friday I will reveal my forward spots so sit back and enjoy.
The easiest group to speculate on would have to be the goaltenders. Anders Lindback was not brought in to sit on the bench and watch hockey games. He is going to start, and as long as he is plays well, he will start a lot. Mathieu Garon will be the backup but he should be looking to play about 30-40 games. Again, this all depends on how well Lindback does. The big goal-tending battle should be between American Hockey League Championship starter Dustin Tokarski, and SM-Liiga (Top Finish Hockey League) Championship starter Riku Helenius, who also was the Lightning’s first round pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. This will determine which goalie starts for the Lightning’s minor league affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. Both goalies need games to grow but I see Helenius getting winning that battle because I believe that he has finally started to develop into the future number one goalie that he is supposed to be.
This leads us to the defensive core which includes Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer, who were the top two defensemen last season. Sami Salo and Matt Carle were brought in through free agency to provide some veteran leadership, mobility, and passing ability to the back end. Brian Lee, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Brendan Mikkelson should also be in the mix for the top six with Lee a definite. Then Keith Aulie would be my final choice to make the team based on him having to pass through waivers to make it to the minors. I expect Bergeron and Mikkelson to fight with Matt Taormina who was brought in from the New Jersey Devils organization to give some solid depth at the minor league level. Top defensive prospects Mark Barberio and hard hitting Radko Gudas will get a look too but eventually be sent to the minors for another year of experience. This amount of quality defensemen is something that is not very common on past Lightning teams and should be a nice problem to have once the season starts. Mattias Ohlund has not been included in this discussion because he is still rehabbing from serious knee surgery and has no timetable for a return. This should be a good projection of how the defense shapes up and it as there should not be too many surprises on who makes the team, the real question is who everyone will be paired with. On Friday I will evaluate the forward group so until then feel free to tweet me your thoughts on the lineup speculation.