2010-11 NHL season preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

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boucherandyzerman.jpgLast season: (34-36-12, 80 points, 4th in Southeast Division, 12th in Eastern Conference) The Lightning have been a mess more or less since they won the Stanley Cup before the lockout. Almost universally bad personnel and front office decisions will do that to you. Really, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos were the only bright spots of last season, although many will point out that changing their owner, GM and coach might be the real ‘highlight.’

Head coach: They say that Guy Boucher is bringing in a system quite unlike anything Lightning players have ever seen … whatever that means. All I know is that he can’t be much worse than Rick Tocchet and that the scar on his face makes him look a villain from a James Bond film. These are good things.

Key departures: G Antero Niittymaki, F Alex Tanguay, F Zenon Konopka, F Todd Fedoruk, D Andrej Mezaros, D Matt Walker, D Kurtis Foster. Few teams can match the Lightning when it comes to year-by-year turnover. The good news is, this summer resembles cleaning house compared to the ‘re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’ type moves in previous years. They might miss Foster’s booming slapper a bit, though.

Key arrivals: G Dan Ellis, F Simon Gagne, D Pavel Kubina, D Brett Clark, F Sean Bergenheim, D Dominic Moore. Ellis is a slight upgrade over Niittymaki while Gagne is a considerable upgrade over Tanguay — if he can stay healthy. Actually, Kubina’s a step up from Meszaros, too. Just a bunch of shrewd moves by new general manager Steve Yzerman.

Thumbnail image for lecavalierwithnewteammates.jpgUnder pressure: When you make the kind of coin that Vincent Lecavalier does, you better produce. He’ll always be under a lot of pressure in Tampa Bay, but when you consider that Stamkos could rake in big bucks as his contract expires this season, Lecavalier needs to justify his very expensive existence. If the French-Canadian talent can make it happen this season, Tampa Bay might turn some heads sooner than some expect.

Protecting the house: Neither new addition Ellis nor Mike Smith are going to take the world by storm, but they’re both competent goalies. On the negative side, Smith is injury-prone while Ellis is unproven as a starter. I like the duo, but they’ll need some solid defense to shine.

Tampa Bay’s defense is a lot like its goalies: solid but unspectacular. Victor Hedman struggled in his first season, but he should be a special player one day. Mattias Ohlund is getting a little long in the tooth, but he’s a solid trooper. Kubina and Clark are nice additions as well. Boucher’s system will have a big impact on the quality of this group, but this could be the best group they’ve had in quite some time (even if that’s not saying much).

If nothing else, the Lightning should allow less than the putrid 260 goals they gave up last season.

Top line we’d like to see: Stamkos-Lecavalier-St. Louis. This trio boasts a speedy playmaker (St. Louis), a true gunslinger (Stamkos) and an elite center (Lecavalier). Tampa Bay would be wise to split Stamkos and Lecavalier for the sake of depth scoring, but if it needs a goal, this could be a great combo.

Oh captain, my captain: Lecavalier’s been the (admittedly pretty) face of the franchise since the team’s former owner called him the ‘Michael Jordan’ of hockey, even if he hasn’t always been the captain. I wonder if St. Louis might be a better choice, though, since he consistently produces while Lecavalier is decidedly up-and-down.

Street fighting man: If ridding themselves of last season’s leader Konopka wasn’t enough, the team openly states that it has an anti-fighting policy. Considering that Southeast Division is getting tougher (at least in Florida and Atlanta), that might be a minor concern.

Best-case scenario: Let’s not forget that the Lightning boasts top-level forwards that can compare to any in the NHL. Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, Gagne, Ryan Malone and Steve Downie are a pretty imposing group. Winning a Cup seems a little ridiculous, though, but what about a run to the Eastern Conference finals?

danellistbl.jpgWorst-case scenario: Boucher’s system doesn’t work out. Smith gets injured and Ellis has a new set of ‘Dan Ellis Problems’ (namely, letting in too many goals). Lecavalier flounders, Stamkos regresses, St. Louis shows his age and Gagne gets hurt for half the season while their defense fails miserably. The team finishes well enough that they don’t get a good draft pick, but low enough that they miss the playoffs.

Keeping it real: When you consider how bad the Eastern Conference is once you get past the elite teams, the lower seeds are wide open. The Lightning can definitely earn a seventh or eighth seed simply by improving by increments. They have a potentially explosive offense, a decent defense and an OK goalie duo. Sounds like the right mix in the diluted East.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, Tampa Bay earns a 3. I’d rather give them a 2.5, because they have a lot of talent, but are far from complete. There are a ton of unknowns from this team, but I think a Lecavalier-Gagne combo could wreak havoc on second-defensive pairings

WATCH LIVE: Blues at Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 12: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck against Jay Bouwmeester #19 and Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues during the season opening game at the United Center on October 12, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues will look to improve their cushion in the Western Conference playoff race when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.

You can catch the game on NBCSN (7:30 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to slow down Blackhawks

Blues extend Berglund — five years, $19.25 million

Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson ‘day-to-day,’ will not play on Sunday

BREAKING: Ben Bishop reportedly traded to L.A. Kings

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the New York Islanders during the second period at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The L.A. Kings have reportedly acquired goalie Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That is according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie and TSN on Sunday.

The news comes one day after Jonathan Quick returned to the Kings crease after a 59-game absence due to a groin injury and was solid in a winning effort versus the Anaheim Ducks.

The Kings are three points out of the final wild card spot in the West.

More to come.

Video: More evidence Connor McDavid is really good at hockey

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 13:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Dallas Stars in the second period at American Airlines Center on October 13, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Connor McDavid once again had that blazing speed of his on display. The latest victims? The Nashville Predators on Sunday.

The sophomore star scored his 21st goal of the season and league-leading 70th point thanks to a beautiful individual effort, putting his Oilers back into a tie game at the time.

McDavid picked up the puck just outside his blue line, accelerated to beat Roman Josi in the neutral zone, beat Ryan Ellis with a move and immediately snapped his shot home for the goal.

Two more Canucks players showing symptoms of the mumps

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 11: Ben Hutton #27 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at TD Garden on February 11, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Canucks 4-3. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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There was good news and bad news for the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, as the club deals with an outbreak of the mumps.

First, the bad news: Head coach Willie Desjardins confirmed that forward Anton Rodin, defenseman Ben Hutton and trainer Brian Hamilton are now experiencing symptoms of the mumps.

Initially, five players — Troy Stecher, Chris Tanev, Nikita Tryamkin, Mike Chaput and Markus Granlund — had been affected.

The good news? Stecher, who had the first confirmed case of the mumps, was back on the ice Sunday for an optional practice, per the Canucks.

The Canucks, nine points out of a playoff spot in the West, host the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.

The following day is the trade deadline, and the Canucks could be busy, with at least three players — Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Ryan Miller — all mentioned as possible targets for other teams.

Speaking to TSN 1040 radio on Friday, GM Jim Benning didn’t believe the mumps outbreak would impact his plans leading up to the deadline.