Part 11 in my "State of the Franchise" series. Already a third of the way through!
Feel free to leave comments; I'm always willing to take feedback and I readily accept that I'm not the next Charles Dickens, so any constructive criticism would be great.
Current Rankings List:
20. Tampa Bay
22. Los Angeles
25. New Jersey
30. San Jose
#20: Tampa Bay Lightning
Top Fws: Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier
Top Ds: Victor Hedman, Matt Carle
Top G: Mathieu Garon
Top 3 Under-23s:
1. F Steven Stamkos (22)
2. D Victor Hedman (21)
3. F Dana Tyrell (23)
Top 5 Prospects
1. F Vladislav Namestnikov (19)
2. F Richard Panik (21)
3. G Andrei Vasilevski (18)
4. D Mark Barberio (22)
5. D Slater Koekkoek (18)
Prospect Pool Rating:
Bluechip Talent: C
Quite simply, the teams is run on Steven Stamkos. With him in the folds the team has a chance to win every night just based on his offensive abilities alone; no one in the league is a more deadly player at the hash marks and in the slot. Lecavalier is a good insurance policy behind Stamkos, St. Louis is still one of the premier wingers in the league and the team has depth at the wing with Ryan Malone, Brett Connolly and Teddy Purcell.
Obviously the largest area of concern is the lack of a number 1 goalie at the NHL level. Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon are serviceable to be sure, but they shouldn't be relied upon as a goaltending tandem for a playoff team. Victor Hedman is surrounded by a cast of average defenders, and the Lightning in general lack a true top pairing defenseman. Their depth on offense is also pretty thin.
The Bolts have a lot of depth in goal and with the drafting of top prospect Andrei Vasilevski, they finally have a bluechip goaltending prospect to round out the position. There are a few interesting Russian pieces up front in Vlad Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, and Nikita Gusev, to go along with a couple of small-but-highly skilled forwards in Cory Conacher, Matthew Peca and Tyler Johnson.
Overall depth in the organization's prospect pool is thin. Besides the goaltending position, the team has a few players with potential at every position, but it doesn't go much deeper than 1 or 2. Most of the organization's best forward prospects are 6 feet or lower; only Richard Panik can be considered big at 6'2". but he's also enigmatic in his play. Koekkoek, Barberio and Radko Gudas look like potential NHLers but the talent level on defense drops off after them.
The Lightning, coming a surprise run to the Eastern Conference finals, looked to build on that success by taking another step forward. The hockey gods, however, had other plans. There were a lot of risks associated with the Bolts' team blueprints, none larger than having the Chelios of his position, Dwayne Roloson, as their starting netminder. And make no mistakes about it; the decision was a disaster and the Lightning flopped their way to 21st place in the NHL.
That being said, there is reason for optimism. Steven Stamkos is the kind of franchise cornerstone a team builds around, Victor Hedman is still developing and has the potential to be that number 1 defender, and names like Brett Connolly and Dana Tyrell will be among the future stars of the Florida franchise. However, they don't have a lot of time to develop into bigtime players; Lecavalier and St. Louis, the two remaining guards of the Lightning's championship run, aren't getting any younger and will need to be replaced eventually.
It's unlikely with their current personnel that the Bolts have what it takes to be a contender now, but with the continued development of their prospects the Bolts will be looking at potential long-term success.