Off The Post: Could Tampa Bay Lightning Be Victim Of Sophomore Slump?

Off The Post is a feature that gives an in-depth look at specific topic regarding the Tampa Bay Lightning or the NHL.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a phenomenal year and part of this past year was having at least 10 rookies suit up at any given time. The youth movement has finally arrived and had a huge impact on the team by providing 142 points—most in the NHL.  Some of those rookies such as Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Ben Bishop (although Bishop technically isn’t a rookie, he did play his first full NHL season) even earned nominations for NHL season awards such as the Calder trophy and the Vezina.

Now the question is how will these players perform in their second year? This question is brought to you by the “sophomore slump.”  The Lightning seem poise to be a power house in the East but only if some of those ten rookies don’t take a step back.

Let’s work our way back and start with Bishop. Ben Bishop accounted for 37 of the Lightning’s wins and carried the team as they struggled without Steven Stamkos for much of the season. Bishop ultimately fell to injury too as he didn’t perform as well after the Olympic break.

In the first half of the season, Bishop posted 1.98 GAA to go along with four shutouts and a .933 save percentage. Pretty good numbers right?  He was on his way to being the sole owner of the Vezina Trophy. Then he suffered a wrist injury and his numbers after the Olympic break weren’t that great as posted a .904 save percentage, one shutout and 2.79 GAA.  That’s just in one calendar year, now what is going to happen in his second full season? Will he be able to recover from his injuries and perform closer to the.933 save percentage or will it fall somewhere in between. Realistically, Bishop probably won’t match the .933 save percentage and will regress some but the Lightning’s recent defensive upgrades should cover the difference.

For comparison, Sergei Bobrovsky is a decent comparison based on the contract, talent and coming out of nowhere the year before. Bobrovsky won the Vezina in 2012-2013, he posted a .932 save percentage, similar to Bishop’s .933, and earned himself a two-year deal. Bobrovsky played well last season but his numbers were a bit down as he struggled with injuries. However, he still won 32 games and posted a .923 save percentage. While we don’t know Bishop’s true talent, he has only played in one full season, he will definitely see a drop from his monstrous .933 save percentage but he should be able to post healthy numbers for a starter and win the team many games.

Now some of the other players that made a big difference such as Palat and Johnson are also crucial. The Lightning will need both Johnson and Palat to perform well next year as they are a solid part of the team’s top-6 forwards. Johnson was a force on special teams as he lead the league in short-handed goals.  Palat finished the season leading the current roster of Bolts in points at 59 ( Martin St. Louis is listed as the leader but he was traded to the New York Rangers.) If those two happen to fall victim to the slump, a lot of Tampa’s scoring ability will be hampered greatly. The team depended on them as well as J.T. Brown, Alex Killorn and Andrej Sustr a lot to get to their first playoff run since 2011. If any of those players take a step back in terms of play it will change the whole dynamic of the team.

At the end of the day, the Lightning may look good on paper but looking good on paper doesn’t win a Stanley Cup and teams that suffer the sophomore slump won’t either. So when head coach Jon Cooper talks about tempering expectations, he has right to give caution with expectations for the 2014-2015 season.  Because all it takes is for one unexpected thing to go wrong and it could alter the course of the season.

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