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Lightning ready for 2010 Written by Laci Bloomers - September 9th, 2010

The off-season has been a busy one for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they look poised to challenge for a spot among the league's elite. 

The 2009-10 season was rewarding and disappointing all at the same time for the Lightning.  They were among the hottest teams in the league in the second half, finishing the season with a club record 42 wins and 95 points.  Unfortunately that success earned them an opening round series with the much improved Toronto Maple leafs, who edged the Bolts in 4 straight games that could have gone either way.

"The playoffs were a learning experience for us" noted standout rookie goaltender Steve Mason.  "With the changes management has made this summer, we are very excited to get playing."

he Lightning, who were a bit challenged offensively last season, were hurt further when leading scorer Keith Tkachuk announced prior to the playoffs that it would be his final season. 

The off-season started without fan approval, as favorites Greg Zanon and Dave Steckel were moved.  That was just the beginning of a summer of positioning with wraps up with some serious scoring threats up front.

When the dust settles, the club has a top line that could potentially rival the best.  Nik Antropov, who broke out last season as the team's 2nd line center behind Tkachuk, finished the season with 81 points.  He will center newcomers Brian Gionta and Rick Nash.  Gionta came over from Pittsburgh for unsigned Ryane Clowe, Blake Comeau and a pick.  All he has done is score 30+ goals the last 4 seasons.  Nash, who can score and pass, came over from Buffalo and just signed a new 3 year deal with the Bolts.  The winger, who has been an All-Star in 5 of the past 6 seasons, has scored both 40 goals and 100 points in his career, and he is only 26.

Rookie Mikael Backlund could steal the second line job.  Backlund has an incredible vision on the ice, and can pass with the best of them.  He could be feeding those passes to Ryan Malone and former Bolt Chris Clark, who has returned.  Malone, who came over in the Steckel trade with the Hurricanes, Malone looks poised to move to the Top 6, with solid offensive potential.  Since being acquired, he has been the player most targetted by fellow GMs around the league.  Clark has scored 77 goals over the past 3 seasons, and was terrific in his first stint with the club.

Daymond Langkow resigned for half his salary the previous year to come back to the Lighting.  The center was dealt by the club to Dallas during the 2008 season.  The former 32 goal scorer has only netted 27 the past two seasons, but is returning healthy and raring to go.  Cory Stillman was picked up for his experience and touch around the net, and will challenge for the 2nd line winger's job as well.  He is coming off a bad season last year, but scored 135 goals in the 4 seasons prior.  David Moss will play the other side, and he is coming off a stellar 23 goal rookie campaign.

The checking line will be centered by Wayne Primeau, with Eric Nystrom and Jamal Meyers.

On the blueline, Brian Rafalski was resigned to lead the pack.  Raflaski was sensational last season, scoring 26 goals, including 18 as the power play quarterback.  His 74 points was among the leaders for defensemen in the league.  Kurtis Foster has been brought in to help on the power play.  His passing ability will help produce more scoring chances with the man advantage.  Doug Murray, who was very steady all last season, will help out offensively, as will Brent Sopel, just acquired for Brad Stuart.  

Graduating from the farm this year with Backlund are two blue-liners, Mark Giordano and Karl Alzner.  Both are ready for the prime time.

Mason will carry the brunt of the goaltending, with either Ty Conklin or Mike Brodeur doing the back-up honours.

In Macon, Jordan Eberle and Kyle Wellwood hope to improve their value for 2011.  Winger Steve Begin could challenge for a spot in Tampa, as could Brian Boyle.  Adam Pardy and John Negrin will develop on the back end for the Whoopee. 

The prospect list points to a solid future, with the like of Brandon Kozun, Greg Nemisz, Eric Wellwood, Ethan Werek, Ryan Howse, Ryan Bourque, Michael Stone and Eric Gelinas developing.

Look for the Lightning to compete as they break the 100 point barrier this season.

- Laci Bloomers reporting -

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