2015 Brings Intrigue For Tampa Bay Sports

Bailey Adams, Sports Editor

A disappointing year for professional sports in the Tampa Bay area is over. 2014 saw the Rays, picked to be World Series contenders by many before the season, fall flat from the start, finishing the season with a record of 77-85. The Lightning surprised many by making the postseason, only to be swept in the first round by Montreal largely due to the absence of injured goaltender Ben Bishop. And the Bucs, well, let’s just say they disappointed on their way to a 2-14 record.

2015 has the potential to be very different for Tampa Bay fans. Changes in personnel, roster makeovers and rising talent should make this year an interesting one if you are a sports fan.

The team that seems to have the most potential as of right now is the Lightning. They have experience in the forms of Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman. To compliment the steady dose of experience, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin take the term “young talent” to another level. Not to mention, having Ben Bishop in net is a huge advantage. They start 2015 atop the Atlantic Division with 52 points, making their goal of winning the Stanley Cup as realistic as ever.

The Rays have, strangely enough, had a busy offseason. Andrew Friedman, their executive vice president of nine seasons, left to assume a role in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Days later, manager Joe Maddon used an opt-out clause in order to explore other career options. Eventually, he signed as the new manager of the Chicago Cubs. Since then, Tampa Bay has found a new manager in the young Kevin Cash and Matt Silverman has completely changed the roster. Silverman has traded Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Joyce, Joel Peralta, Sean Rodriguez, Ryan Hanigan and Wil Myers. In return, the Rays have re-stocked their farm system and added new talent for 2015. New additions such as Cash, catcher Rene Rivera, infielder Asdrubal Cabrera and outfielder Steven Souza Jr. could help Tampa Bay fight their way back to the playoffs.

What could you have to look forward to after a 2-14 season? Well, a lot, according Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith. Defensively, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David continued to impress while breakout players such as Danny Lansanah and Bradley McDougald helped give fans something to feel good about heading into 2015. Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans both eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards, becoming the first pair of teammates in Buccaneers history to accomplish the feat in the same season. A lot of positives came out of a two-win season. However, general manager Jason Licht must restructure an offensive line that was miles past terrible this season, as well as find depth for the defensive line and secondary. And, for the first time since 1987, the Bucs own the top pick in the NFL Draft. Whether the Bucs trade the pick or use it to draft Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston or Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (both Heisman Trophy winners), there will be a new buzz around Tampa Bay come next season.

It should be an exciting sports year in the Tampa Bay area. Each of the three professional teams in the area has potential to break out and bring back some pride to a sports town that often is not taken seriously. 2015 could be a fun year to be a Tampa Bay sports fan.