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THN.com Blog: Watch the Bolts make a mighty surge

Tampa's Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis will be surrounded by a better cast when the puck drops for the 2008-09 season. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Tampa's Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis will be surrounded by a better cast when the puck drops for the 2008-09 season. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Thursday was the day the great minds at The Hockey News got together in the boardroom to discuss our predictions for the coming season.
 
A few months earlier I saw the play 12 Angry Men, starring Richard Thomas from The Waltons fame. It was brilliantly done and had me on the edge of my seat.
 
During the predictions meeting, I couldn’t help feel I was acting out a role of one of the angry men in the play. I was on the edge of my seat trying to make convincing arguments for or against certain teams, but nothing registered with my associates.
 
I’m not going to give away the results of our predictions – they’ll appear in the 2008-09 Yearbook next month – but I would like to provide a little more detail on one of the teams which had me pounding the table.
 
I’m convinced the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to do what the Philadelphia Flyers did this past season and go from 30th overall to a spot in the playoffs. Not necessarily go from 30th to 11th like Philly did, but maybe from 30th to 15th or 16th.
 
Tampa had a strong enough base led by Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis and it made significant additions to the second and third lines. Consider the likes of first overall draft pick Steven Stamkos, Vaclav Prospal, Ryan Malone, Jussi Jokinen, Radim Vrbata and Mark Recchi bolstering the offense.
 
Even an energy line with Jeff Halpern, Gary Roberts, Chris Gratton and Nick Tarnasky among the candidates looks like it will serve a purpose. Add Michel Ouellet, Brandon Bochenski, Ryan Craig, Adam Hall and Evgeny Artyukhin to the mix and the Lightning have 16 forwards with NHL experience and a budding star in Stamkos.
 
Yes, it’s true the Lightning are young and inexperienced on the blueline with the likes of Paul Ranger, Matt Carle, Shane O’Brien, Alex Picard, Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby and prospect Ty Wishart playing behind veteran Filip Kuba.

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But it’s too simplistic to say the Bolts will miss Dan Boyle, traded to San Jose for Carle and Wishart. Boyle was terrific on the power play, but his minus-29 in just 37 games this season was dreadful. Are they really going to miss him defensively?
 
The goaltending is average at best with Mike Smith getting support from Olaf Kolzig and Karri Ramo. But if just one of the three can gain a hot glove hand, this team could easily go on an extended winning streak.
 
Tampa Bay will be one of the most exciting teams in the NHL in 2008-09. It’ll be a shock if they don’t lead the league in combined goals scored and goals allowed next season. And with new, open-minded creative ownership in place, they’ll be worth watching. I’m convinced we’ll get to watch them in the playoffs as well.
 
I just wish I could’ve convinced the other 11 angry men and female intern Sabina Lam on the jury.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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