TAMPA — Not to put too much pressure on his teammates before the season has even started, but G Mike Smith said "anything less than getting in the playoffs in a decent position would be a failure for this team."
"We have all the tools in place."
Smith was not a lone voice as training camp began Friday at the St. Pete Times Forum, where it was obvious the additions and other changes the team made this summer have stoked real expectations.
"I haven't been this excited in a long time," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "We're a playoff team."
Added LW Simon Gagne: "This team will definitely be good enough to make the playoffs."
That would be quite a step for an organization that has not been in the postseason for three years and has won only three playoff games since it captured the 2004 Stanley Cup.
G Dan Ellis said a run for another championship is not out of the question.
"It's a team that's on the cusp," he said. "I think we have every piece in place to make a run for the Stanley Cup this year."
He compared the team to last season's champs, the Blackhawks, who won with a dynamic mixture of youngsters and veterans. "When you've got young guys like (Steven) Stamkos and (Victor) Hedman and guys like that still on their entry-level deals, you want to take advantage of that," Ellis said. "Eventually those guys are going to take big (salary) cap hits, so right now this is your chance to win while you can get everybody under the cap."
PASSING GRADES: Coach Guy Boucher said he was not aware of any players vomiting during off-ice fitness testing. Of course, he added, "If they did, they wouldn't want me to know about it."
Seriously, though, Boucher said he was pleased with how the players performed.
"I was looking forward to this day to find out if we have some guys who are falling way behind," he said. "It doesn't look like we do. It's encouraging to see that the enthusiasm that they seemed to have over the summer when I was talking to them translates into physical shape. That's real big to start a season."
A BIGGER DOWNIE: Steve Downie said he still weighs between 190 and 192 pounds, but the right wing is stronger, and his physique shows it, after a summer with workout guru and former Lightning Gary Roberts.
"Gary is one of a kind when it comes to working out," Downie said. "I love being pushed like that. I had a great time doing it."
Stamkos, for the second straight summer, and Rangers D Michael Del Zotto also worked with Roberts.
"It was great," Stamkos said. "We pushed each other. We saw each other every day. Only a couple of days we were sick of seeing each other, so it wasn't that bad."
ODDS AND ENDS: Boucher said LW Sean Bergenheim will practice but not play in the first four preseason games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. … Lecavalier has no limitations from last month's surgery on his left knee, Boucher said, but could be one of several veterans held out of today's scrimmage. … Boucher said he will watch from the stands. … The team is on the ice at 10 a.m. at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. Fan activities begin at 9 a.m.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]