The Lightning come into the United Center on Tuesday night in first place in Atlantic Division. Are the Bolts a new model franchise in the NHL?
Interestingly, the number of young players in Tampa’s lineup (four under 21) has received a fair amount of attention heading into this match-up, and with good reason. Jonathan Drouin is one of the top prospects in the game, and the number three overall pick from the 2013 Draft has backed-up the hype so far with seven points in his first 10 NHL games.
But if we dig deeper into how Tampa has risen to the top of their division, we must acknowledge some of the struggles and tough decisions made by the Bolts’ front office in the last few years.
The Lightning have qualified for the playoffs in only two of the last seven seasons. And since the Blackhawks made the jump back into the postseason and climbed all the way to the Western Conference Final against Detroit in 2009, the Lightning have had five picks in the top ten overall selections in the NHL Draft.
Those picks were:
- 2009 – 2 – Victor Hedman
- 2010 – 6 – Brett Connolly
- 2012 – 10 – Slater Koekkoek
- 2013 – 3 – Jonathan Drouin
(The Lightning had two picks in the first round in 2009 and 2012)
Being able to add should-be elite players in the top ten overall selections of the draft should make a positive impact on any organization. But how much of an impact have the Lightning realizes with these high picks?
If we compare the draft classes from Tampa and Chicago between 2009-12, there are striking similarities.
|Draft picks to reach NHL||9||9|
|Picks w/ 100+ gms in NHL||3||3|
Tampa GM Steve Yzerman has made some good moves over the last few years. Moving Martin St. Louis last season was clearly the biggest ticket transaction of his tenure, but moving Cory Conacher to Ottawa for an underwhelming netminder has been his best by far. Ben Bishop, acquired at the deadline in 2013, had a fantastic season last year and continues to play well enough for the team in front of him to win games.
Yzerman had cap space last summer – a luxury Stan Bowman did not – and used it to sign a number of veterans. The two most notable additions were both former Rangers; Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman signed three and five-year contracts, respectively, to make the move south.
Many noticed the quality and depth of the Lightning organization earlier this year. Some were bold enough to predict big things for the Lightning this season. But they’re trying to find the right mix of players to win consistently – for more than one season.
Are the Lightning younger than the Hawks? Sure. According to NHLNumbers.com, the Lighting’s roster has an average age of 26.761 this season; the Blackhawks average age checks in at 27.943.
Are the Lightning using their depth better than the Blackhawk? Not by much, if at all. The Lightning have five forwards averaging more than 17 minutes per game, the same number as the Blackhawks.
We’ll see how their current group stacks up against the organization many still consider the current model in Chicago tonight. It should be a great measuring stick for both teams.
Note: if you think the deals for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are big, wait a year. Steven Stamkos is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, and will be coming off a deal with a $7.5 million cap hit.