There's new ownership in place with Jeff Vinik having bought the team. There's new management with Red Wings great Steve Yzerman taking over as GM. There's a new coach behind the bench with Yzerman bringing in Guy Boucher. And there's plenty of new players after a summer's worth of aggressive moves in both free agency and on the trade market. But will it lead to new results?
The Lightning have not won a playoff series since taking home the Cup in the final year before the lockout and have not even qualified for the playoffs in the last three seasons. Yzerman has a long way to go to remodel Tampa Bay in Detroit's championship image, but his moves so far have been impressive, and the Lightning shouldn't be pushovers for long.
2009-10 Record: 34-36-12, 80 points (fourth in Southeast Division; 12th in Eastern Conference; did not qualify for the playoffs)
Bruins record vs. Lightning: Boston holds a 40-17-9-0 edge in the all-time series but split last year's four-game series. The Bruins won 4-1 at home on Dec. 2 as the line of Patrice Bergeron, Marco Sturm and Mark Recchi combined for seven points and a plus-9 rating and held on for a 5-4 win at Tampa on Feb. 11 after jumping out to a 5-0 lead. But the Lightning won 2-1 at home on Dec. 28 and 5-3 at Boston on March 25, despite the Bruins outshooting them 50-18.
When to watch: The Bruins play at Tampa on Monday, Nov. 22 and Tuesday, Dec. 28, while Boston hosts the Lightning on Thursday, Dec. 2 and Thursday, March 3.
Familiar faces: Defenseman Matt Lashoff was the Bruins' first-round pick in 2005 and played 46 games in Boston, but was dealt to the Lightning for Recchi. He played just five games for Tampa last year, spending the bulk of the season in the AHL. Martins Karsums was included in the same deal. He finished last season in the KHL, but the Lightning have retained his NHL rights. Nate Thompson was also briefly a Bruin, making it up from Providence for four games in 2006-07. Dominic Moore (Harvard) and Martin St. Louis (Vermont) played collegiately in New England, while Tampa's 2009 first-round pick Carter Ashton is the son of former Bruin Brent Ashton.
Key additions: F Simon Gagne (trade with Philadelphia); G Dan Ellis (free agent); D Pavel Kubina (free agent); F Dominic Moore (free agent); F Sean Bergenheim (free agent); D Brett Clark (free agent); D Mathieu Roy (free agent); F Niklas Persson (free agent); G Cedrick Desjardins (trade with Montreal); F Marc Pouliot (free agent); F Chris Durno (free agent); F Brett Connolly (draft)
Key losses: G Antero Niittymaki (signed with San Jose); D Kurtis Foster (signed with Edmonton); F Alex Tanguay (signed with Calgary); D Andrej Meszaros (traded to Philadelphia); D Matt Walker (traded to Philadelphia); F Zenon Konopka (signed with N.Y. Islanders); F Ryan Craig (signed with Pittsburgh); G Kaari Ramo (traded to Montreal); D David Hale (signed with Ottawa); F Brandon Bochenski (signed with Barys Astana, KHL); F Todd Fedoruk (bought out)
Burning question: Can Yzerman turn Tampa around?
The new Lightning GM didn't waste any time putting his stamp on the franchise. He swung a pair of trades with Philadelphia, dumping Andrej Meszaros' bloated contract, then adding another elite scorer in Simon Gagne. He brought in competition in goal by signing Dan Ellis to challenge Mike Smith for the No. 1 job and upgraded his depth with the likes of Dominic Moore, Sean Bergenheim, Brett Clark and Pavel Kubina.
There are still plenty of holes to fill, with question marks on defense and in goal and a disconcerting lack of grit and toughness in the lineup, but Tampa certainly seems headed in the right direction. It took Yzerman 14 years to win his first cup as a player, but having learned under the likes of Scotty Bowman and Ken Holland and having already put together a gold medal Olympic squad for Canada, he might not need quite so long to contend for a Cup as a GM.
2010-11 outlook: Few teams can match the firepower Tampa possesses for its top two lines, with Steven Stamkos (51-44-95), Martin St. Louis (29-65-94), Vincent Lecavalier (24-46-70), Steve Downie (22-24-46, plus 208 PIMs), Ryan Malone (21-26-47 in 69 games) and Gagne (17-23-40 in 58 games with Philadelphia). Victor Hedman, the second overall pick in 2009, will have to take on a bigger role on defense in his sophomore season and Ellis and Smith will have to provide solid goaltending, but the Lightning will be dangerous this year.
Did you know? Although born in New Jersey, new Tampa Bay owner Jeff Vinik has plenty of ties to Boston. He received his MBA from Harvard Business School and lives in Weston, Mass. He even has ties to the professional sports scene here in the Hub, as he is also a minority owner of the Red Sox.
Next: We'll complete our look at the Southeast Division on Saturday by checking in on Washington, which posted the best record in the league but couldn't get out of the first round of the playoffs last year.
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