NHL Bolts off to sizzling start

It’s early in the season but one has to think that Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman has to be a strong candidate for Executive of the Year. Yzerman, ‘went all in’ as those guys who drink energy shots might say, acquiring eight new players including Pavel Kubina, Brett Clark, Dan Ellis, Niklas Persson, Dominic Moore, and in the biggest move, Simon Gagne.

Now Gagne may currently be injured, which was a concern leading into this season, but he’ll be back. For even with the durability risk, Gagne is exactly type of player the Lightning have not had on offense, a big power forward who can hit, and score both pretty and ugly goals in front of the net. Trading Matt Walker and a fourth round pick? That’s a trade you do every time if you are the Lightning.

The NHL is a funny place. You have a Stanley Cup winner in the Chicago Blackhawks who were forced to dump a third of their roster in order to fall under the salary cap, and you have a team like the Lightning who despite missing the playoffs and not being in a traditional hockey market, behaved as if this was a Stanley Cup or bust year.

But brining those players in would have meant little to nothing had the Lightning not already had a solid nucleus to build upon. They do, with crafty veteran Vincent LeCavalier, the undersized and undervalued Martin St. Louis, who Tampa was able to re-sign this offseason, and early contender for league MVP, Steve Stamkos, who has attacked the NHL with the tenacity of Chris Berman at open buffet, posting ten assists and eight goals in his first nine games.

With Gagne and Steve Downie, St. Louis and Stamkos, the Lightning have the perfect mixture of grit and speed, size and craftiness. With strong contributors like Ryan Malone, Sean Bergenheim and Moore, the Lightning also have more than enough role players to help carry the load.

And yet the Lightning are not perfect. Only New Jersey, (yes I am the idiot who predicted they’d win the Stanley Cup) has a worse goal against average in the East than the Lightning. The Lightning, despite their depth, are also a very top heavy team right now as the first line of St. Louis, Stamkos and Downie have combined for 15 of the Lightning’s 32 goals.

This however, is only a small blemish on a team that despite having some many new pieces, is tied for first in points in the East, and is playing the type of fast, crisp hockey that the NHL should want to promote.

Judging his recent poll numbers, and looking back at their atrocious opening night, the Tampa Bay Lightning may soon also be invited by Barack Obama and the Miami Heat to speak about ‘change.’

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Redskins columnist and Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NFL and NHL contributor to Sports Climax.

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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