Previewing The Lightning Lineup: The Forwards (Part 1)

After last time, where I previewed the Lightning’s expected defensive lineup, we now to shift our focus to the forwards.  This year, the Lightning will be fielding a formidable group, led obviously by 2011/2012′s goal-scoring leader, Steven Stamkos, and former league MVP and scoring leader, Martin St. Louis.

The top six Lightning forwards can compete with any team in the league, but from there, things get a little murky.  B.J. Crombeen and Benoit Pouliot have been brought in to help sure up the bottom six, and there are a number of prospects in Syracuse that might provide some scoring punch, but not necessarily  grit, to that area of the depth chart.  What that leads to is instability.  Most forwards not in the top six will be competing for their roster spot, night in, and night out.

At this point, we have a vague idea of what the lineup will look like on opening night.  Training camp will almost certainly change that, as Cory Conacher, Tyler Johnson, and Pierre Cedric-Labrie (who does, I should note, provide that afore-mentioned grit – in spades) will be gunning hard for a spot with the big club.

Let’s take a look, player by player, at last season’s twelve main forwards.

 

(Listed numerically…)

 

 

#4 Vincent Lecavalier (C)

2011/2012 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)

(GP)64     (G)22     (A)27     (PTS)49     (+/-)-2     (PIM)50     (TOI/GP)18:56

Lecavalier missed 18 games with a broken hand near the end of last season, and saw his production slide for the third straight year.  While the long-time Lightning captain may no longer be the force he once was, he remains a large, rangy, and reasonably physical player, making him a nearly ideal second line center (or course, no one would complain if Lecavalier returned to 2007 form).  It’s interesting to note that just prior to injuring his hand, Lecavalier turned in a hot January, picking up 15 points in 12 games.  In the 48 games he played before the All Star break, he racked up 40 points – with a 48 game schedule on the horizon, no one would complain about getting 40 points from the captain.

 

Pertinent Statistics

2011/2012: (PPG)0.77     (TOI/GP)18:56

2006/2007: (PPG)1.32     (TOI/GP)22:36

Lecavalier’s production has been on a steady decline since his stellar 2006/2007 campaign.  Between then and now, his points-per-game averages are as follows, in order: 1.32, 1.14, 0.87, 0.85, 0.83, 0.77.  In short, he’s no longer a franchise player.  But luckily for the Lightning, he’s no longer expected to be.  That torch has been passed, and Lecavalier should remain a solid, if unprolific, scorer for the remainder of his career.

 

Interesting Statistic 

Contract Status:  8 Years Remaining, $61 Million

2012/2013 Cap Hit: $7.7 Million

That is the seventh highest cap-hit in the NHL.  The Tampa Bay Lightning are paying for a 2007 Vincent Lecavalier, but what they’re getting is the 2013 version.  And, even though many fans don’t like to admit it, that’s a problem.  Under the new CBA and cap limits, Lecavalier’s contract could pose plenty of problems for GM Steve Yzerman.  While it is very unlikely the Lightning will use one of their two buyouts on Lecavalier (Imagine walking into the owner’s office and asking him to cut that check), the new ability for teams to eat some of an outgoing player’s salary could open the door to a Lecavalier trade somewhere down the line.  The politics of such a trade (Lecavalier is very popular in Tampa) would be messy, but it might, at some point, become necessary.  His contract is a set of handcuffs that could keep the team from acquiring more crucial pieces to the puzzle.

It would be to both his and the Lightning’s benefit if he were to round out his game a little more.  He doesn’t bring the kind of intangibles that other players, once they find their skills declining, learn to bring.  He has the skill and the experience, and is not too old, to reinvent himself as a two-way player, and thus justify his contract.  Perhaps that’s wishful thinking…

 

Statistical Anomaly

On 2 Days Rest: (GP)17     (G)10     (A)7     (PTS)17

Those numbers could prove to be important.  With the upcoming condensed schedule, there will be fewer off-days between games.

 

What to expect…

While it’s unlikely he’ll ever return to 1.32 PPG form, Lecavalier might surprise fans this season with a slight bounce-back.  Last season, like most Lightning players, he suffered from a poor team power play, and posted just 11 points with the man-advantage (his lowest total since his rookie season).  The power play should be much improved in the coming season, and one of the key beneficiaries of that should be Lecavalier.

The shortened season could turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing for him – on one hand, he will suffer from having fewer days to  rest;  on the other hand, Lecavalier has always streaky scorer, and one long hot streak could make for a great season.  One long cold streak, however…

 

#11 Tom Pyatt (C)

2011/2013 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)

(GP)74     (G)12     (A)7     (PTS)19     (+/-)-19     (PIM)8     (TOI/GP)14:48

Pyatt posted the best numbers of his career in 11/12, improving in every offensive category and collecting double digits in goals.  The goals, however, are a bonus for Pyatt, who’s role with the Lightning is that of a versatile depth forward who can kill penalties.  It’s hard to hold his -19 against him, since he doesn’t get much time in scoring situations, and the Lightning suffered from poor defense and goaltending.

 

Pertinent Statistics 

Short-handed:  (TOI/GP)2:11

Pyatt’s main function with the Lightning is that of a penalty killer.  He managed to block 52 shots last season, which is impressive given that he doesn’t see as much ice time as some other forwards.  He is unlikely to ever post impressive offensive numbers, but that’s fine – the Lightning have plenty of guys who can score.  What they really need from Pyatt is solid defensive play, since the team does not have an abundance of defense-first forwards.

 

Interesting Statistics

Home: (GP)39     (G)10     (PTS)16     (+/-)-2

Away: (GP)35     (G)2      (PTS)3     (+/-)-17

Team-wide, the Lightning need to improve their road play.  Pyatt’s -17 plus/minus rating needs to improve.  On the other hand, scoring 10 goals in just 39 home games is impressive from a forward who is not counted on for offense.

 

Statistical Anomaly 

Total Goals: 12

2nd Period Goals: 8

 

What to expect…

It’s unlikely that Pyatt will improve on his 12 goals from last season.  At 25, he is forging an identity as a defensive forward, and hopefully he will take more steps in that direction.  Defensive forwards tend not to truly come into their own until later in their careers, so there could still be some development taking place.  Although he’s undersized, an improved physical game would go a long way.

 

 

 

#12 Ryan Malone (LW)

2011/2012 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)

(GP)68     (G)20     (A)28     (PTS)48     (+/-)-11     (PIM)82     (TOI/GP)17:41

Ryan Malone has yet to have a healthy season with the Lightning, never playing more than 70 games with the club in any campaign, so last year’s 68 was pretty much in line with our expectations.  In the games he does play, however, Malone provides great leadership, decent offensive production, and most importantly, a healthy dose of grit and sand (much needed, by the way) to the top six.  Malone was one of few Lightning players who didn’t see their power play production drop significantly, posting 15 points with the man-advantage(he’s regularly in the 15-18 range).  He provides a big body in front of the net, and is easily the most physical Lightning forward, capable of battling in the corners, and very willing to drop the gloves in defense of a star player.  Malone’s name seems to be mentioned in every Lightning trade rumor, and that probably won’t change, but, when healthy, he brings key ingredients to a winning recipe and is not easily replaced.

 

Pertinent Statistics

2011/2012: (GP)68     (Hits)142

Ryan Malone is a big, powerful winger that plays like a big, powerful winger.  His main job is to crash and bang and create room for his smaller, more slippery teammates.  And Malone does that job well.  He consistently averages more than two hits per game, and is not afraid to drop the gloves if need be (Malone fought 6 times in 2011/2012, which works out to more than 25% of the team’s total fights).  But don’t mistake Malone for strictly an enforcer – he is a man of many roles with the Lightning.  And even though he’s now 33, rumors of his decline, you will see, have been greatly exaggerated:

2011/2012: (PPG)0.71

Believe it or not, the 0.71 points-per-game average Malone posted last year is a career best for him.  Furthermore, his 48 points were just three shy of his career-high 51 (scored in 77 games-played with the 2007/2008 Penguins).  Malone is still capable of providing secondary scoring, even though scoring is not his main function with the team.

 

Interesting Statistics

Pre-All Star: (GP)41   (G)10     (TOI/GP)16:02

Post-All Star (GP)27    (G)10     (TOI/GP)20:11

Malone was a force down the stretch, and it resulted in more ice time.  Health could also have played a factor in those numbers.

 

Statistical Anomaly 

March 2012: (GP)15     (G)10     (PTS)15

 

What to expect…

More of the same.  We know what we’re getting from Malone by now – 2 points every 3 games, solid physical play, and nagging health issues.  He’ll split time between the top two, and possibly even top three, lines, and remain a constant on what should be an improved power play.  He should score 25-30 points in 40-45 games.

 

 

 

#14 Brett Connolly

2011/2012 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)

(GP)68     (G)4     (A)11     (PTS)15     (+/-)-9     (PIM)30     (TOI/GP)11:28

Of the many new faces incorporated into the Lightning lineup last season, the one most likely to stick this year, and have an increased role with the team, is Brett Connolly.  Connolly got the first 68 games of his NHL career under his belt last season, with mixed results.  After an impressive performance for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship that saw him score 5 goals in 6 games, Connolly managed just 4 in his rookie NHL season.   Those numbers are somewhat deceiving, however, as Connolly appeared to be playing his best hockey down the stretch, but was positively snakebit.  He logged more minutes in March than any other month, and also racked up 31 shots on goal (to no avail).

 

Pertinent Statistics

2012/2013 AHL (Syracuse Crunch): (GP)36    (G)15    (A)18     (PTS)33

The Lightning have big expectations for Connolly, a former sixth overall pick in the NHL entry draft, but perhaps they jumped the gun on bringing him to the NHL.  Half a year spent in the AHL might be just what the doctor ordered.  Connolly’s production has steadily improved throughout the season with the Crunch, and at the time of this writing, he is the team’s second leading scorer.  With a little luck, his newly gained experience, and confidence, will help him thrive in what might be an expanded role with the big club this season.

  

Interesting Statistics

Total Goals: 4

November Goals: 4

All of Connolly’s goals in his rookie season were scored in November.  Things went poorly from there, though to Connolly’s credit he often appeared more the victim of bad luck than bad play.

As a junior player, Connolly was a sturdy winger known for his goal-scoring prowess (he potted 46 goals to just 27 assists in 59 games in his last season with Prince George in the WHL).  He possesses high end scoring ability, which, in years to come, should make him an excellent second option to Steven Stamkos, and help split opposing defenders’ attention.

 

Statistical Anomaly

On 2 Days Rest: (GP)19     (PTS)8

 

What to expect…

Connolly will be much better prepared for his second NHL season than his first.  He should win some time on the team’s second line, and perhaps a regular spot on the power play.  There’s no reason to think he won’t stick with the team for the full season, or to think he won’t out-pace last year’s numbers.

 

 

#16 Teddy Purcell (W)

2011/2012 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)

(GP)81     (G)24     (A)41     (PTS)65     (+/-)9     (PIM)16     (TOI/GP)16:08

One of the many reasons why Tampa Bay might surprise a lot of hockey writers (who regularly predict the Lightning to miss the playoffs) is the continued emergence of Teddy Purcell.  As of now, Purcell is one of the best kept secrets in the league, and he finished last season in style – with a hat trick in his final game.  Purcell will likely see plenty of time on the team’s top line this season, and the power play.  He is a great piece to have.

 

Pertinent Statistics

Pre-All Star Game: (GP)47     (G)12     (A)15     (PTS)27     (TOI/GP)14:08

Post-All Star Game: (GP)34     (G)12     (A)26     (PTS)38     (TOI/GP)18:54

If there’s a reason to believe we’ve yet to see the best of Teddy Purcell, it’s that he finished last season on a tear.  If that Teddy Purcell shows up for this year’s entire 48 game schedule, it’s not unreasonable to expect 40-plus points.   He has great chemistry with both Stamkos and St. Louis, and, like many Lightning players, will likely benefit from an improved power play.  And should he not play with the top line this season, he will add excellent secondary scoring, and keep opposing teams honest about where they focus their attention.

 

Interesting Statistics

2011/2012: (GP)81     (Hits)17     (PIM)17

Despite possessing good size, Purcell’s not an overly physical player.  Even a moderate improvement in this area of his game could do wonders for his value with the team.

Statistical Anomaly

2011/2012: (+/-)9

Purcell is an average defender at best, and yet somehow managed to pull off a team-best +9 rating.

 

What to expect… 

Purcell could put up some surprising numbers this season.  20 goals and 45 points aren’t out of the question, though something in the neighborhood of 15 and 40 is a safer bet.  He’ll stick with the team’s top two lines, giving the Lightning plenty of looks and options with their scoring.

 

 

#18 Adam Hall (C)

2011/2012 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)

(GP)57    (G)2     (A)5     (PTS)7     (+/-)-11     (PIM)17     (TOI/GP)11:52

Returning from Germany, where he spent the lockout playing with EV Ravensburg, Adam Hall should stick with the Lightning for the duration of this season despite plenty of younger, flashier talents waiting in Syracuse.  The veteran journeyman will return to his role primarily as the Lightning’s fourth line center, and also to their penalty killing units.

 

Pertinent Statistics

Face Off%: 59.5

Hall was not only Tampa Bay’s best face off man last year, he was also their only face off man that drew above 50%.  Playing on the fourth line, however, means Hall didn’t see nearly the volume of face offs as many of his teammates.  Still, he won nearly a hundred more face offs than he lost.  His fellow, more publicized, center-men would do well to take note (Steven Stamkos won an abysmal 45.5% of his draws, and Vincent Lecavalier was barely mediocre, winning just 48.7% of his).  If the Lightning want to be a winning team, they’ll need to do a better job in the less glamorous areas of the game.  Wouldn’t it be nice to start plays with possession of the puck a little more often?

 

Interesting Statistics

2011/2012 Short-Handed: (TOI/GP)2:52

2011/2012 Tampa Bay Lightning PK%: 79.6% (26th)

Hall was Tampa Bay’s primary penalty killing forward last season, but the results were not good.  The team’s penalty killing was among the worst in the league.  Before you put too much blame on Hall, consider this:

2010/2011 Short-Handed: (TOI/GP)2:48

2010/2011 Tampa Bay Lightning PK%: 84.4% (8th)

He was part of a much better penalty killing unit in the previous season.  It’s hard to imagine Tampa Bay’s goaltending (and defense) will be the disaster they were last year, so the team should have a much improved penalty kill.  While 8th in the league might be a bit much to hope for, finishing in the top half is not an unreasonable expectation.

 

Statistical Anomaly 

2011/2012: (GP)57     (SOG)63

2010/2011: (GP)82     (SOG)167

 

What to expect…

Hall provides stability and a veteran presence at the low end of the depth chart.  While I don’t think his spot will be usurped by any of the Lightning prospects this season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see GM Steve Yzerman bring in a higher profile role player to either play with Hall or even to perhaps replace him.  The recent additions of Benoit Pouliot and B.J. Crombeen are clear evidence that Yzerman is focusing on improving this area of the Lightning lineup.

 

 

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will feature Marty St. Louis, J.T. Wyman, Nate Thompson, Steven Stamkos, Benoit Pouliot, and B.J. Crombeen.

If you haven’t seen it, check out the previous installment: “A Look At The Statistics: The Lightning Defense.”  http://boltsbythebay.com/2013/01/08/a-look-at-the-statistics-the-lightning-defensemen/

Thanks for reading.

-DFC

@Dfrederickcook

Topics: Forwards, Tampa Bay Lightning

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