LIGHTNING TURN PAGE, LOOK TOWARD 2009-10
Turn the page.
It isn’t just about forgetting the adversity and the inordinate amount of injuries they had to endure the past seven months. It is because they are anxious to write the next chapter, which they think can be a much more pleasant read.
“It’s a huge summer for the team,” Lightning goalie Mike Smith said. “We have a great core of players here, great leadership. I think everyone should be excited about that. We just have to put some [new] pieces into the puzzle and go from there.”
The Lightning lost 29 one-goal games, including 18 of 23 in overtime or the shootout.
“Things are moving in the right direction,” said center Steven Stamkos, who broke the club’s rookie scoring record with 23 goals. “Our coaching staff has brought in a good structure. Everyone is going to be prepared. That’s one step ahead of this past season’s training camp when we had 13 new players.”
You can argue the Lightning start from a better place than even many of the teams above them in the standings, with the base of talent on the roster.
“We have a clear, decisive plan to how we’re going to improve,” Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton said. “We have very clear goals. We want to be competing for a playoff spot next year. It’s a big jump up, but we believe we can do it with the pieces we have in place.”
“Marty asked for a DVD of game 80 [Washington, April 7],” Tocchet said. “We’re not even close to the playoffs and he went home and watched the game. That says what type of player he is. He is our leader and that stuff rubs off on his teammates, especially on a guy like Stamkos. It makes my job easier to have Marty St. Louis on the team.”
Stamkos had plenty of tutelage from veterans Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Lecavalier, Malone, Adam Hall and St. Louis, among others. Slowly, his tremendous talent shined through.
“I’m not going to set goals for him or put any more pressure on him,” Tocchet said. “He’s just got to be Steven Stamkos. I think when he is himself, like he was the last two months, that’s when he’s at his best. He’s a good hockey player and he’s going to continue to grow into a very good hockey player. If he keeps playing like this, he should be able to be on the score sheet most nights.”
Smith gave the Lightning a chance to win every night, with a solid .916 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average over 41 games before his season ended with post-concussion syndrome. After three seasons without a true No. 1 goalie, the Lightning now have one in Smith.
Lecavalier scored 29 goals, coming off shoulder surgery. He said he expects his shoulder to be stronger going into training camp and his right wrist, which bothered him for a while, is progressing well after surgery earlier this month. He is expected to begin training in a matter of weeks.
“This is the most important summer of my career,” Lecavalier said. “That motivates me.”
None stepped up more than defenseman Matt Smaby. He played in 43 games, establishing himself as a top-six defenseman in the league with his physical play and improved decision-making.
Defenseman Matt Lashoff, acquired from Boston for Recchi at the trade deadline, showed his potential as an offensive threat in a short stint at the end of the season. Forward Steve Downie, acquired from Philadelphia in the Matt Carle deal, made an impression in a midseason call up and center Paul Szczechura earned plenty of playing time in 31 games, contributing nine points.
Karri Ramo had some outstanding games in goal in Smith’s absence, getting into 24 contests.
“Karri made some strides,” Tocchet said. “He definitely has the talent.”
“The one positive I take out of this is all the guys that were forced into playing, probably earlier than they thought they would,” St. Louis said. “It helps our depth and it helps the organization to see where all those young guys are at.”
Prospects Radek Smolenak, Brandon Segal and Blair Jones all scored 20 or more goals for AHL affiliate Norfolk. Dana Tyrell, a second-round draft pick in 2007, made the Canadian junior national team in the winter and should be in Lightning camp in September. In addition, goaltender Dustin Tokarski led that Canadian team to the World Junior Championship and had 60 saves in a victory for Spokane of the Western Hockey League recently.
The foundation is set.
Now the road begins.
“I think everybody is just waiting to wipe the slate clean and go to work, to have a team we can be proud of next season,” Tocchet said. “There’s a lot of lessons to be learned. The guys that learn from mistakes the quickest are the ones you want to have on your hockey club.”
St. Louis said one thing to remember about the 2008-09 season is how bad it felt so they can work to never have that feeling again.
“I think it’s important for the franchise to show the fans and each other that we are not just going to sit back and let this keep going in that direction,” St. Louis said. “Everybody has to do their part. They have to and we have to as players in our summer preparation.”