When the Tampa Bay Lightning used their compliance buyout to rid themselves of captain Vinny Lecavalier last summer, it was the official declaration of a new era for Steve Yzerman’s club. Lecavalier had been with the Bolts since they drafted him 1st overall in 1998. He helped the franchise win its first Stanley Cup title in 2004. He was the face of the franchise. But, his contract was enormously long and cap hindering. Not to mention, his offensive production has significantly declined in recent seasons.
The Lightning have missed the playoffs two straight years, which has allowed them to draft talented young players that might one day join sniper Steven Stamkos to form the base of a qualified Stanley Cup contender. Most notably, they chose offensive winger Jonathan Drouin 3rd overall in 2013.
Things are looking bright for the Bolts. They hold top spot in the Atlantic Division standings with 20 points. Defenceman Viktor Hedman is approaching the prime of his career, ensuring his club possesses a true number one on the blue line. And Hedman has been excellent this season, as he was last.
Steven Stamkos has been the top centre in Tampa for a few years now. His emergence made Lecavalier’s buyout a no-brainer. Stammer’s 20 points see him 2nd in NHL scoring, 3 points back of Sidney Crosby for the lead.
On July 5th the Lightning signed UFA Valtteri Filppula to a 5-year $25 million deal. The addition of the former Detroit Red Wings centre has paid huge dividends immediately. The native of Finland is producing at both ends of the ice, providing head coach Jon Cooper with a two-way centre option he simply didn’t possess with Lecavalier, who is more of a one dimensional offensive player.
Filppula has scored 5 goals, assisted on 6, and is a reliable penalty killer for his club. He brings balance to the table.
If the Lightning can sustain their hot start they will qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2010-11 when they came within one game of the Final, losing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the eventual winners, the Boston Bruins.