As lightning quick as their rise to the top of the NHLwas, winning the Stanley Cup in 2003-04 just 11 years after first taking to the ice, Tampa Bay's fall from the top has been just as fast with the Lightning winning a league-low 31 games last season. But after a busy offseason, starting with drafting Steven Stamkos No. 1, re-signing star Vincent Lecavalier and hiring Barry 'The Mullet' Melrose to coach, Tampa's on the rise again.
The Tampa Bay Lightning went from Stanley Cup winners to dead last in the NHL in the blink of an eye. At this rate, they’ll be back in the penthouse in no time.
Tampa Bay has been the biggest mover and shaker during the offseason. With new owners and a new front office led by former player and agent Brian Lawton, the Bolts have made aggressive moves to improve a club that had lost its way after winning the Cup in the last season before the lockout. It might even be enough of a push to get the Lightning back into title contention at 45-1 on the NHL futures market. Look at this impressive haul:
Free agents: Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Radim Vrbata, Olaf Kolzig, Adam Hall, Andrew Hutchinson, Wyatt Smith, Brandon Bochenski.
Trades: Matt Carle, Ty Wishart.
Draft: Steve Stamkos.
In addition to these and other new faces, the Bolts shelled out an 11-year, $85-million contract extension to keep Vincent Lecavalier in the fold until 2020. Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and uber-prospect Stamkos will wreak havoc on Eastern Conference goaltenders this season. They could still use some help on the blueline, but the summer is young.
The Chicago Blackhawks made arguably the biggest splash in the Western Conference by signing defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal, then adding goaltender Cristobal Huet for four seasons. The former Buffalo Sabre was the top blueliner available on the market, a two-time All-Star who scored 19 points in 20 games after going to San Jose at the trade deadline. Huet was another deadline deal, helping the Washington Capitals make the playoffs with 11 wins in 13 games between the pipes.
Chicago’s moves thus far have boosted the club’s Stanley Cup odds from 40-1 to 35-1. The Blackhawks have been working their way back into playoff contention under Dale Tallon, their former defenseman and current general manager. The blossoming of rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews got them within three points of the postseason; the Hawks should get over the hump this year and pose a legitimate (if outside) threat for the Stanley Cup.
The defending champion Detroit Red Wings are the other team to see its betting odds move, from 5-1 to a chalky 4-1. And it only took one marquee signing: Marian Hossa, who spurned bigger dollars elsewhere to sign a one-year, $7.45-million deal with Detroit. The Wings also re-signed blueliner Brad Stuart and picked up some backup goaltending in the form of Ty Conklin, but Hossa (26 points in 20 playoff games for Pittsburgh) is the prime market mover. He adds to Detroit’s scoring punch while taking away from the top Eastern contenders.
The Mullet is back on the NHL ice.
Pittsburgh has lost quite a lot of talent to the Lightning and Red Wings, but the additions of Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko will keep the Penguins competitive in the East. In an offseason where so many of the remaining free agents (Jaromir Jagr, Ray Emery, et al) are choosing to play in Europe, that leaves one man at the top of everyone’s list: Mats Sundin.
The biggest deal on the table for the 37-year old Swede is reportedly from the Vancouver Canucks: two years, $20 million. That’s a lot of money, but the Canucks are in something of a rebuilding mode and priced at 30-1 to win the Stanley Cup. The Montreal Canadiens (10-1) could lure Sundin, who has yet to win the biggest prize in hockey, with two years at $16 million. He’s aging very gracefully indeed – 78 points in 74 games last year, enough to put a team like Montreal into elite territory. Les bon temps are back.