After the euphoria of the return relevancy last season for the Tampa Bay Lightning plus the completed overhaul of the look of the franchise and it's building a lot of optimism was abound about the upcoming hockey season.
Of all the franchises in the Tampa Bay area, the Lightning seemed to have the most going for it.
While the off ice development certainly has gone according to plan, the on ice product has not. It's been a disappointing year for the Bolts so far.
Let's take a look back at the past 41 games and try to see some light at the end of the tunnel for the hockey team.
Record: 17-21-4, 38 points, 13th in the Eastern Conference
Pace: 34-40-8, 76 points
MVP: Steven Stamkos, Fwd
Stamkos has been absolutely sensational this season. He leads the league with 29 goals and is fourth in points. Stammer has been essentially the only offense for the Bolts most of the season (although the other big two - Marty St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier have chipped in) and even with teams focusing on him on the man advantage, Steven is still doing work.
The majority of his goals this season have come on five-on-five. If he can find some ice on the power play for that wicked one-timer, who will be able to stop him?
Most Improved Player: Vincent Lecavalier, Fwd
We didn't think that Vinny Lecavalier had big years left in him - but he's been outstanding this season. After scoring an average of 24.5 goals the past two seasons, Lecavalier has stepped up his production in 2011-12, scoring 16 goals in 41 games. His even +/- is his first positive in that category since his monster '06-'07 season.
The captain is playing good hockey for his team.
Most Disappointing Player: Dwayne Roloson, Goalie
Rollie the goalie was re-signed after a tremendous playoff run last season but the Lightning are not getting a return on their investment. The 42 year old net-minder is having the worst year of his 13 year NHL career. Career worst numbers in GAA (3.76) and save percentage (.880) has left the organization bewildered.
How in the world can a goaltender go from a 2.56 GAA and .912 save percentage to this? Roloson is old but he was old in June when the Lightning were playing for a shot at the Stanley Cup.
What player(s) has to step up to get the Bolts back into contention?
The goaltending obviously needs to step up. Let's face it, Mathieu Garon was never brought in to Tampa to be the number one but with the perplexing fall of Dwayne Roloson, he's been forced into that role. While he's had is good outings and bad outings, he simply doesn't have the consistency the Lightning need on an every night basis. If Roloson is truly a lost cause, the Bolts need Garon to step up his game and try to play more consistently.
Tampa Bay also needs more from it's secondary scoring. The Big Three can't carry you for 82 games. Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone and Brett Connolly need to provide more offense. The Lightning need more chip ins goals from the likes of Tom Pyatt, Dominic Moore and Dana Tyrell.
Are the Lightning out of the playoff race?
Tampa Bay is 8 points out of a playoff spot. It seems like they would be behind more but the truth is they still have a shot. Tampa Bay has played extremely well on their home ice (last night's embarrassing loss to Carolina excluded, of course) and in the second half of the season they have the majority of their games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Still, you have to wonder after performances like last night if this team is serious about contending for a playoff spot this season. While Marty, Stammer and Vinny are playing their guts out to win, I don't think we're getting that same effort from some of the others on a night in and night out basis.
To make the playoffs, this team needs to go on a long run of victories. Right now, I just can't see that happening.
What moves should Yzerman make?
Yzerman has consistently said that he's building for the future. He doesn't want to give up young players or future draft picks for rent-a-players. Add to that the fact the Bolts are up against the cap and you can understand that there probably won't be much to get.
No, more likely is if the Lightning are still out of the playoff field when the trade deadline comes, Tampa Bay might consider moving some of their older veterans to create some cap relief for next season.
While you have your untouchables (Marty and Stammer), guys like Ryan Malone, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Teddy Purcell should all be on alert.
I also believe the situation with Vincent Lecavalier needs to be watched closely. Of course, Vincent has a no movement clause in his contract and the NHL has some strict rules about that - still, clauses can be waived. He is not worth the $7 million dollar cap hit the Lightning are taking on him, yet he's still solid enough to be valuable to another team with more cap dollars and a need at Center. If Lecavalier likes the situation and the Bolts can get compensation they deem as interesting, it could be something
Outlook for the rest of the season:
I don't believe this hockey team has a playoff heart. They may just get close enough to tease you into thinking they might sneak in as an eight or seven seed but their inconsistency on the road, poor goaltending and perplexing performance on the special teams make that more wishful thinking than reality.
The truth is, Tampa Bay is not good enough to make the playoffs.