Florida’s two NHL teams aren’t usually seen as tough competition by their opponents, but that may all change this winter.
The Florida Panthers have only made the playoffs in three seasons and even though the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, they haven’t made it past the quarterfinals since.
While this season may be no different for the somewhat silent Panthers, the Lightning have had an outstanding offseason. The most significant change Tampa made this summer was the addition of former Detroit Red Wings star Steve Yzerman as the team’s new general manager. The hockey legend has already made some great decisions, including trading Matt Walker and a fourth-round draft pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in return for Simon Gagne.
Gagne, who had been a member of the Flyers since 1999, can easily put up 20-30 goals per season when healthy. He scored 47 goals and added 32 assists in his 2005-06 season, and now that he’ll be playing alongside players like Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, there’s a good chance he’ll have another great season.
Yzerman also re-signed St. Louis and Steve Downie to contract extensions in July and August, respectively, ensuring two more solid goal scorers for the next few seasons.
Another big pick up for Yzerman was the signing of free-agent goalie Dan Ellis. The former Nashville Predators keeper came to Tampa Bay via Montreal, who had received his negotiation rights from the Predators. Ellis, instead, signed with the Lightning on the July 1, the first day of free agency. Although he suffered a sophomore slump, Ellis is working his way back toward his high rookie year save percentage (.924). Ellis will likely play about half of the games this season, sharing responsibilities with Mike Smith.
Veteran defenseman Brett Clark also joined the Lightning this summer. Known as a tough two-way defenseman, Clark signed with the Lightning after playing for the Colorado Avalanche for the last five seasons. Clark will be a good mentor for some of the Lightning’s younger defensemen, like 2009 draft pick Victor Hedman.
They may not top the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division, but by bringing in more goal-scorers and strengthening their defense and net presence, the Lightning may still be playing hockey in May or June next year.
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