The Tampa Bay Lightning are bringing some bite with them back to the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The NHL and the NHL Players Association settled on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement on Sunday, thus bringing to an end a lengthy work stoppage upon ratification later this week.
“I’m glad, relieved and most of all excited,” Bolts forward Martin St. Louis said during a telephone conference call on Sunday. “Outside of our families, this game is our entire life.”
And optimistic, he might as well add.
With the exception of JT Brown, the team’s returning players are coming back at a full bill of health after injuries caused the team to rack up 321 man-games lost, its highest total since losing 351 during the 2008-09 season. Bolts general manager Steve Yzerman also worked diligently to rebuild the Lightning’s back end, and acquired several forwards for added depth on the roster, all with the expectation of molding the Lightning into a championship-caliber club.
“There were some specific areas that were in need of improvement, and we looked at all of those throughout the offseason and made some decisions at that time that we believed would make us a better hockey club,” Yzerman said. “We’re very pleased with the players we were able to get, and we’re looking forward to having them contribute.”
It starts in net with Anders Lindback, the 6-foot-6 goaltender who served as a backup to Pekka Rinne last season in Nashville, and a pair of new faces behind the blue line in Matt Carle and Sami Salo. Both are known for moving the puck up the ice, in addition to serving invaluable roles on both the power play in addition to logging significant minutes on the ice.
The Lightning, too, got a little stronger at forward, even after producing five 20-goal scorers last season, which tied for the second-most in the NHL behind only the Boston Bruins, who had six.
Benoit Pouliot was added to the mix, as was BJ Crombeen, both of which bring some added size and grit to the front, but who are also versatile and capable of playing in a number of different situations.
Certainly the players themselves have high expectations.
“That’s nothing new,” forward Vincent Lecavalier said. “But I think now more than ever there’s a sense of urgency to get out to a strong start knowing that we are going to play less games. With the team we have now I think we can do that. We’ve improved in a number of different areas so I’m excited to get back on the ice. I can’t wait to start playing.”
Lecavalier added that the negotiations were indeed a long process, but that the feeling of having to have those meetings over and done with is “a huge relief.”
Lecavalier, like many of his Lightning teammates, will now shift their focus on getting ready for the start of the season.
Even that doesn’t come without its challenges though.
The team hasn’t played together in an official capacity since April, with its only on-ice sessions coming in the form of informal workouts at the club’s practice facility in Brandon.
There is also less room for error due to the shortened season, where the team cannot afford to hit the emotional lulls that often come with any losing streak.
All of that, however, adds up to merely a few minor demerits when surveying the bigger picture.
“Bottom line is we have to do our best to get in game shape and show up ready to play,” winger Teddy Purcell said. “There was a sense of feeling good after hearing the news yesterday and we’ve had a day to allow it to sink in, but now we have to get in that mindset of going to work. I know myself though, and I know the guys on this team, and we’re all anxious to get out there and get down to business here. It’s going to be exciting.”
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