Three things to watch in Lightning preseason
NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
Steve Yzerman has hired two coaches and made some tweaks to the lineup throughout his three-plus seasons as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. None compare to his first major personnel move this offseason, however, when he opted to use a compliance buyout on captain Vincent Lecavalier.
The four-time All-Star, drafted by the Lightning with the first pick of the 1998 NHL Draft, helped the franchise win its only Stanley Cup in 2004 and scored a franchise-high 383 goals. While the decision to buy out Lecavalier will cost the Lightning $32 million during the next 14 years, it also saved more than $7.7 million in salary-cap value for the upcoming season.
It was a move, according to Yzerman, that had to be made if the organization was serious about moving forward and improving the team. So for the first time in 15 seasons, Lecavalier is not a part of Lightning training camp. Here are three other topics sure to dominate the headlines in Tampa Bay prior to the start of the season:
1. Jonathan Drouin will impress during training camp -- All signs point to Drouin having a very successful rookie season. He might even be considered a preseason favorite to win the Calder Trophy if he gets to play alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. It wouldn't surprise anyone if Drouin picked up the offense in short order, particularly because one of his greatest assets is his hockey sense.
"I think a Drouin-Stamkos-St. Louis line is what everyone wants to see, but that's a big media-driven line," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We must put ourselves in a position to win hockey games, and if having Drouin on a line with Stamkos and St. Louis provides that, then they'll play together. That said, there's a whole bunch of 'ifs' in there."
Cooper said he was impressed with Drouin during pre-draft interviews.
"When I met him at the draft, he seemed a little bit mature for his age (18) but still had that kid in him and I really liked that," Cooper told NHL.com. "In development camp we put him in those skill situations and some of [what he did] was jaw-dropping. Our advice to Jon in training camp is not to try and play to everyone else's expectations but just be yourself and everything will take care of itself."
2. The goaltending duel between Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback will be good -- The initial thought here is that Bishop earns more playing time in goal this season. That's not to say Lindback won't receive his share of minutes after he finished 10-10-1 with a 2.90 goals-against average and .902 save percentage as a starter in 2012-13.
Bishop never has entered an NHL season as the No. 1 goalie, but knowing that opportunity exists with the Lightning might be just what he needs to elevate his game. He went 3-4-1 with a 2.99 GAA and .917 save percentage in nine games with the Lightning following his trade from the Ottawa Senators. Overall, Bishop won a career-high 11 games in 2012-13 with a 2.67 GAA, .920 save percentage and two shutouts.
Yzerman has stated his preference for Bishop and Lindback to feed off the other and split duties to help alleviate some of the pressure associated with an 82-game schedule.
"Over the course of an entire season, it will give both of them an opportunity to play," Yzerman told Tampa Bay's website. "Having two guys with great potential, they'll now both be able to develop into the goaltenders we think they can become."
3. Ryan Malone could rebound under Cooper -- It was rumored during the offseason that the veteran forward would be the second compliance buyout made by the Lightning, but instead he enters 2013-14 with two years and $5 million remaining on his contract. A shoulder injury and flu-like symptoms limited him to 24 games last season, when he had six goals and eight points. Cooper said he is excited to work with Malone and acknowledged the 33-year-old Pittsburgh native is feeling as good as he's ever felt.
"I'm a big Ryan Malone fan," Cooper said. "He's had a tough run injury-wise, but he has a lot of motivation right now. I've spent some time with him over the summer and you can sense that motivation in his voice. He sees there's a new coach and it's a fresh start. He probably was keeping tabs on things going on in Washington, D.C., where the U.S. hockey players were in Olympic camp and he wasn't a part of it. I think there are a lot of things that have been compiling on him and I think we'll be the benefactor of a lot of those things."
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Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer