As I’m sure many of you read, last week I wrote which current players in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization will be on the 23 man roster for the NHL team. Now it is time to debate what lines each player will play on once the season gets started. Based on my projections, the forward group can be found here, while the defense and goalies can be found here. My hockey philosophy has always been a well balanced lineup with depth and scoring options on every line. In a perfect world, I like to have a big player, with a skill player, along with a smaller, speedy forward. With the players the Bolts have on their roster, there are definite possibilities to have that type of mixture on all four lines.
To start off, the top forward line will have to have Steven Stamkos on it as the number 1 center. He is unquestionably the most skilled player on the team and he has leapfrogged Vincent Lecavalier for the top spot. Personally, I have always loved how Ryan Malone works with Stamkos. He is a huge body that can create space, protect Stamkos, and clean up the garbage around the net. The right wing spot is where the controversy comes into play. I feel that this is the year where Stamkos can carry his own line the entire year, and not need help from Martin St. Louis to have success at even strength. This is why I would put Brett Connolly in this spot because Connolly has the offensive ability to fit in nicely with Stamkos and Malone. This would create a great combination on the line with some protection for Stamkos and will allow Connolly to have an easier time at gaining confidence by putting up points.
The second line also needs to be able to have significant offense and I believe dropping St. Louis to play with Lecavalier will accomplish this by giving the Lightning two number 1 lines. I would round out this line with Teddy Purcell to create a super scoring line with 3 supremely offensive players. My reasoning behind having Marty play with Vinny again is that Lecavalier needs St. Louis in order to be his old great self again. Stamkos can create the offense on his own therefore not needing Marty as much. Adding in Purcell will put fear into the opposition. If these are the top two lines then I feel that challenging teams will have an extremely tough time trying to decide which line to put their top defensive unit out against.
For the third line, it is time to get a little creative. Benoit Pouliot will fit perfectly into this left wing position as the expectations here will be a lot lower than in a top 6 spot. He has creativity and is a big body that can play well with J.T Brown, who will be on the right wing. I see Pouliot being this year’s Sean Bergenheim; Pouilot is a former high draft pick with a lot of skill and is looking for the right situation to bring out the best of him. This could be his opportunity and Brown’s playmaking skills will complement Pouliot well. Centering this line will be Tommy Pyatt because of his great defensive abilities and the offensive upside that he showed last season. This can be an agitating effective line that can chip in with a good amount of goals to help give the lineup some much needed scoring depth.
Bolt’s fans have become very familiar with the 4th line of the Lightning in the past few years. This year should be a bit different because of the multitude of options Coach Guy Boucher has. Centering the line is probably the only definite there is because Nate Thompson slots into this position perfectly. To start the year, it really depends on how healthy Dana Tyrell is coming off of his knee surgery. If he is completely healthy then he will take one of the wing spots because his speed on a checking line is a tremendous asset. Adam Hall and B.J. Crombeen will most likely alternate games based on the opponent if Tyrell is healthy. If he is not then Hall and Crombeen will fill out the 4th line which will give the Bolts some grit that they have not had in the past.
Of course, everyone knows that the lines can change on a day-to-day basis especially with Coach Boucher running things. We also have to remember that Boucher loves to play with seven defensemen and only eleven forwards which would completely alter these lines. I think that if these are the forward lines to start the year then the Lightning will have immediate and future success. These combinations create balance, opportunities, and scoring depth which are all desperately needed in the National Hockey League. Tweet me your thoughts on what the lines should look like in your opinions at Twitter.com/Margo4pack and look for the defensive combinations on Friday.