Of all the surprises that came with the Lightning’s finalized roster, the biggest, both figuratively and literally, was the addition of Andrej Sustr. The Lightning made room for him (and Sustr needs a lot of room) by keeping eight defensemen and only 13 forwards.
It’s not that Sustr didn’t deserve to stay with the Lightning this season – everyone knew that sooner or later he’d be dressing in Bolt blue. The surprise is that it happened so soon.
Aside from Sustr, the other big news is Mark Barberio will be sticking around. Big news? Yes. Surprise? No. Barberio would have had to clear waivers to be sent to Syracuse this year, so there was slim (read: no) chance the Lightning were going to demote him.
Radko Gudas will be returning for his first full season of duty. Gudas established himself so solidly last season that it’s a little hard to remember he’s a rookie sometimes.
But he is still a rookie. In fact, three of the eight defensemen on the Lightning roster are rookies. And the Lightning will carry a total of six, count ‘em, six, rookies on their 23-man roster. …Technically.
The odd thing? All six rookies have NHL experience. No one in this lineup will play their first NHL game this season. Perhaps this is a testament to the injury issues the team has been plagued with over the past few seasons, or perhaps it’s a testament to the new way things are done in Tampa Bay – prospects are eased into the NHL with baby steps.
But getting back to the defense, the Lightning are hoping for improvement by way of growth. GM Steve Yzerman chose to pass on the bundle of D-man free agents this summer, none of which were particularly enticing, instead choosing to go with the defense already in place in Tampa Bay.
Of course, that defense ranged from “underachieving” to “dismal” last season. Why should they be better this season? Well, first and foremost, the mindset has changed.
Coach Jon Cooper will work to implement his brand of hockey this season, and he had a full training camp to work with. And the Lightning brought Rick Bowness on board to work with the defense – Bowness has one of the lengthiest resumes in all of hockey. He most recently worked with the Vancouver Canucks, who, despite never winning a Cup, were near the top of the league the entire time he was there.
Of course, no single thing can improve the Lightning defense more than the continued emergence of former second overall pick, Victor Hedman. Hedman, who turns 23 in December, has been getting steadily better since joining the team in 2009. But expectations are high, and the going has been slow. Perhaps no player can have a bigger impact on this season than Hedman – if he finally emerges as a premiere #1 NHL defensemen, it will radically change the look of the Lightning, and the way they’re perceived around the league.
Speaking of which, the Lightning defense has a worse reputation than it deserves. Does the team give up too many goals? Absolutely. But is that all on the defense? I would argue no.
In fact, I’ve been arguing it for a long time. I actually think the bulk of the blame lies with the forwards. The only Lightning defenseman who finished last season with a negative plus/minus rating was Brian Lee. Compare that to the forwards and you’ll understand my argument.
Now then. Let’s get into the nitty gritty. Let’s go player by player. To any of you who actually read this beginning to end, let me thank you in advance.
Welcome to my Tampa Bay Lightning Season Forecast: Defense Edition.
(…If you haven’t, check out the Forward Edition. )
(Players listed numerically…/Stats listed GP-G-A-PTS)