As the start to the NHL season grows near, you have to be curious about the Tampa Lightning.
It was just two years ago that the season started with Barry Melrose as coach.
Melrose would last just 16 games before being replaced by Rick Tocchet.
During that same time, the Lighting would be sold, Steve Stamkos would recede and then almost magically re-emerge as a high-quality NHL player.
And as always, the franchise was constantly dogged by rumors Vinny Lecavalier was about to be traded.
Going into this season, though, things seem to have turned around.
Now, the Lightning have a new coach in Guy Boucher.
It seems everyone loves Boucher, both for his innovative coaching and his personal charms.
No one is sure exactly what his system will look like at the NHL level, but Lecavalier had an interesting take on it:
When you talk about what the center and the two wings are doing, there are usually so many gray areas. You are always hesitating. ‘Am I going, or am I not going?’ Now it’s black or white. If you are the closest, you are going. If you are not, then you are not. That’s what is going to make us first on the puck.
I don’t think anyone wanted to tell Lecavalier that most coaches want the player closest to the puck to go and get it. It’s kind of a standard across sports. The person closest to the ball or puck is usually expected to grab it.
Speaking of Lecavalier, a player once known for his mood swings and overall melancholia now seems psyched to be starting the season.
Boucher has a sports psychology background making him a great fit for Lecavalier, who’s often seemed to struggle with the mental parts of the game much more than the physical.
The Lightning also brought on Simon Gagne during the off-season. While Gagne has a reputation for being injury-prone, he’s looked great for Tampa during the preseason, thriving with the wealth of talented forwards they have.
Looking back, I’m not sure he ever truly bought into the succession of north-south, straightforward systems they ran/run in Philadelphia. He seems to be enjoying playing with a little more finesse and that’s translated into goals. Like you’re legally obligated to say whenever you talk about Gagne, if he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a huge asset for the Lightning.
The Lightning are actually strong in goal, perhaps for the first time since Nikolai Khabibulin left. Tampa now has a strong tandem of Mike Smith, who I think has yet to play up to his true potential, and Dan Ellis, last seen talking way too much on Twitter.
Neither goalie has been totally healthy for the pre-season so Boucher hasn’t picked a starter, but once both are healthy, there are two solid-enough goalies to work with.
There are a lot of interesting changes in the Lightning. Stamkos’ natural development alone might be enough to make them a playoff team. But with the Gagne upgrade and Boucher’s new system?
This year’s Lightning should be interesting to watch. Tampa GM Steve Yzerman has set Boucher a very nice table.