Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.
You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.
Added: Valtteri Filppula, Jonathan Drouin
Subtracted: Vinny Lecavalier, Mathieu Garon, Brendan Mikkelson, Benoit Pouilot
The Lightning are going to be good
The Lightning are poised to be seriously good. This is home to last year’s Art Ross winner (his second title) in Martin St. Louis, and the man doesn’t age. This is home to the NHL’s undisputed best goal scorer in Steven Stamkos (since 2010-11 he’s scored 32 times – a great season’s worth – more than Ovechkin, so it’s not even a debate). Ryan Malone is a 20-goal scoring power forward who’s healthy again, new additional Valtteri Filppula had 66 points in his last full season, and Teddy Purcell is probably the most underrated offensive player in the NHL. In the past three seasons (one shortened), he’s racked up 152 points, which gives him a higher point-per-game average than guys like Stastny, Mike Richards, Wheeler, Heatley, Skinner, Alfredsson and other all-stars. The points is, this team has the horses on offense. AND they’re adding the most dynamic offensive talent from the last draft in Jonathan Drouin to the mix, and he could win the Calder. Their D-corps is stacked – Victor Hedman is a stud, Matt Carle is too, and guys like Salo, Ohlund and Brewer aren’t exactly duds. The best part is, they have two gigantic goaltenders dying for the chance to break out as starters (they’ve been buried in the past, but they’re on the verge), meaning they’re all-but guaranteed that at least one of them gives them quality goaltending. They have all the pieces.
The Lightning are going to be bad
This is a team that finished 14th out of 15 in the East last year (ahead of Florida!), removed captain Vincent Lecavalier, and filled the void with Valterri Filppula. LOOK OUT FOR THE LIGHTNING. At least Martin St. Louis is another year older, that should help. Their depth players carry such prestigious names as Killorn, Tyrell and Labrie. For context, the Bruins – like, a real, competitive team – carried a third line of Tyler Seguin, Chris Kelly and Dan Paille last year. Y’know, NHLers. Ohlund is so injured he’s probably going to retire, which means guys like Radko Gudas play more, which means uh-oh time. And holy hell, that crease. They moved talented scorer Cory Conacher for a guy with 39 games in an NHL net (Bishop), and picked up another dude (Lindback) with 62 total. Oh no no Bourne, this is definitely a crease “guaranteed” quality goaltending. Pff. There’s just no reason this group improves. Maybe Tom Pyatt becomes a star? He does have 24 goals in 218 career games to date.
Flippant barstool prediction
Mid-pack team that’ll need goaltending. They’ll go as the goalies do.
Tampa Bay’s 2013 numbers were almost exactly what you’d expect – not terrible, not terribly impressive. They were third in the league in goals-per-game (3.06), which is good, but when you’re 26th in goals-against-per-game (also 3.06), it’s less impressive. I think their most notable stat was their road record: six wins in 24 attempts. That ain’t good.
Okay, but seriously:
This is a top-heavy group that’s going to need help to get into playoffs. One of those two goaltenders should be at least league average, and if they can get better than that, they’ll be annoying for a lot of teams. I don’t know if Jonathan Drouin will be ready to contribute against men, but if he can that’d be a nice shot in the buttocks. They need to stay healthy, and get quality years out of guys that aren’t guaranteed to give them like Filppula and Malone. Playoffs are a long shot, and they might be better served tanking, but they have too much talent to finish in the cellar, so I could see them finishing in a frustrating 10th or so. No playoffs, no good pick. AWESOME.
Your NHL.com preview: