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Original Issue

22 Tampa Bay Lightning

Refusing to rest on his laurels after finishing second to San
Jose's Evgeni Nabokov in the Calder Trophy voting, Tampa Bay
center Brad Richards spent his off-season working out with
fellow Canadian Dave MacEachern, a retired bobsledder who won a
gold medal in the two-man event at the Nagano Games. During an
intense three months in their home province of Prince Edward
Island, MacEachern supervised Richards through sprinting drills,
weight training and plyometrics. Luckily for Richards, practice
runs on the bobsled were not part of the program. "No way was he
going to convince me to do that," says the 21-year-old Richards,
who led Tampa Bay with 62 points last season. "He showed me a
tape of the wipeouts he had in his career. That's crazy stuff."

Wipeouts have become all too familiar for the Lightning, whose 24
wins last year were the fourth fewest in the NHL. No matter how
much Richards's regimen improves his game, the team's best hope
for progress this season is goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin,
acquired last March in a trade with Phoenix. At 28, Khabibulin is
a year younger than Dominik Hasek was when he won the first of
his six Vezina Trophies; the hope in Tampa is that Khabibulin can
work similar miracles. In 1998-99, his last full season before a
nearly two-year holdout, Khabibulin went 32-23-7 with a 2.13
goals-against average.

The presence of Khabibulin will surely help the confidence of a
young defense (the best of the bunch is steady Pavel Kubina), but
few teams will rely more on its goaltenders to steal a win than
the punchless Lightning. Tampa Bay averaged just 2.45 goals per
game last season, and as SI went to press, its best player,
center Vincent Lecavalier, remained unsigned. Though the
21-year-old restricted free agent finished with a disappointing
51 points last year, he is one of the few players on the team,
along with Richards and Fredrik Modin (32 goals), who cause
opponents any concern.

As the Sabres proved three years ago, one or two gifted offensive
players, a bend-but-don't-break defense and out-of-this-world
goaltending can take you a long way in the playoffs. Just don't
expect such lightning to strike in Tampa Bay.


Fast Fact

Two of the Lightning's top three scorers last year, Vincent
Lecavalier and Brad Richards, were two when a new teammate,
38-year-old left wing Dave Andreychuk, made his NHL debut with
the Sabres, in 1982.



FORWARDS 26 Lecavalier must bounce back from mediocre year
DEFENSE 27 Weak unit; the best player is Kubina
GOALTENDING 5 Khabibulin will make poor defense look decent
SPECIAL TEAMS 26 Zyuzin must assume leadership role on power play
MANAGEMENT 28 Coach Tortorella must get team to play defense