New General Manager Steve Yzerman has made all the right moves since taking the top job in Tampa. The Lightning made the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, and came within a 1-0 loss in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals of playing for the Stanley Cup. What whould NHL bettors expect from this club in the 2011-2012 season?

Now the expectations are nothing short of a Southeastern Division title, and the Stanley Cup finals.  


Stanley Cup holdovers 

Steven StamkosThis franchise is led by two star forwards who helped it win the Stanley Cup in 2003-04: 36-year old right wing Martin St. Louis, and 31-year old team captain Vincent Lecavalier. While most players St. Louis' age would be on the downside, the 5'8" dervish St. Louis has never been most players.

Last year he led the team in regular season and playoff points, with 99 and 19 respectively. He also picked up his second straight Lady Byng trophy. Later, he had his teeth rearranged by Zbynek Michalek's high-stick in the first round of the playoffs, to the tune of a double root canal, and didn't miss a game.  

Lecavalier may be even more important to the team. At 6'4", 208 lbs, he is a fierce forechecker and a two-way presence in front of the net. He had a down year last year, missing 17 games and scoring the fewest regular season points (54) since his 2001-02 campaign. However, once the playoffs started, he really asserted himself with a +6 plus/minus, and 19 points that were second only to St. Louis' total. 

Steven Stamkos' newfound financial security 

Every NHL GM wants one, and Steve Yzerman has one: a legitimate superstar player in his early 20s. And now Steven Stamkos will be a Bolt for the next five years, at the relative bargain of $37 million. Not bad for a 45-goal scorer who hasn't missed a game in two years. If there is an area for the explosive Stamkos to improve, it is playoff performance. His production was rather ordinary, with 13 points and a -5 plus/minus rating in 18 games. Since Stamkos and his contract are far from ordinary, the fans will expect more from him this year. 


Dwayne Roloson's age 

Dwayne RolosonWith all due respect to Cedrick Desjardins, who started and won two games for Tampa Bay last year, the bulk of the goaltending work was done by three men: Dan Ellis, Mike Smith, and Dwayne Roloson. Ellis and Smith were solidly mediocre; both won just a few more games then they lost in nets despite not being able to muster a .900 save percentage.

Smith allowed 2.90 goals per game, Ellis 2.93. Roloson assumed the starting role after Yzerman acquired him midseason, starting 34 games and putting up markedly better numbers than Smith and Ellis: 2.56 goals against average, .912 save percentage and four shutouts. 

As valuable as Roloson was to Tampa last year, he is officially ancient at 41 years old. He is the oldest active NHL player now that Mark Recchi hung his skates up, and the last active player born in the 1960s. He signed a one-year deal to remain with the Lightning this offseason, and it's doubtful he'll play much beyond that, if at all.

Mike Smith departed for Phoenix via free agency, but Yzerman picked up a serviceable stopgap this offseason in Mathieu Garon, who posted .903 and .901 save percentages the last two years, getting regular work between the pipes for the Columbus Blue Jackets. If Roloson shows his age this year, Garon will be the key to a deep Stanley Cup playoff run, or a first-round exit. 

Winning on the dots 

Neither of Tampa's top two centers, Lecavalier and Stamkos, were particularly effective in winning face-offs last year. Lecavalier was a 50/50 face-off man, while Stamkos won 46.5 percent of his face-offs. A losing face-off percentage makes Stamkos a liability on offensive zone face-offs, an infuriating shortcoming for a player who needs to be on the ice when play starts in the opponents' end. 

Lecavalier's career-high face-off percentage is 53.2, and he has won fewer than half of his face-offs in eight out of 12 years in the league. At this point he can't really be expected to exceed those numbers by much, even in the best possible scenario. Stamkos, however, is still a developing talent and needs to push his face-off figure above 50 percent for the first time in his career if he ever wants to be as valuable to his team as, say, Jonathon Toews is to his.  


This is a team whose time is now, before St. Louis and Roloson decline and retire. Although several free agents (most notably, Sean Bergenheim and Simon Gagne) were not retained, the top six forwards are frighteningly good, and there are highly touted young prospects such as Brett Connolly and Carter Ashton coming up to fill in the ranks.

The Lightning are good on the power play and on the kill, and could be an elite team in 2011-12 if they can improve on the face-off, and shave their 2.85 goals against per game down to the 2.4 range.

Listed at 16/1 NHL odds to win the Cup, the Lightning are a good value NHL futures bet.