It’s Tampa Bay Lightning Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

2018-19
62-16-4, 128 points (1st in the Atlantic Division, 1st in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Eliminated in four games in Round 1 by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

IN
Curtis McElhinney
Luke Schenn
Luke Witkowski
Scott Wedgewood
Gemel Smith
Mike Condon
Kevin Shattenkirk
Patrick Maroon

OUT
Dan Girardi
Anton Stralman
J.T. Miller
Ryan Callahan

RE-SIGNED
Jan Ruuta
Brayden Coburn
Danick Martel
Cedric Paquette
Andrei Vasilevskiy

2018-19 Summary

What a season it was for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not only were they the top team in the NHL when the regular season came to an end, they managed to win the Presidents’ Trophy by an incredible 21 points. The Bolts were that loaded with talent.

The Lightning had three players in the top 12 in league scoring. Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov led the way with 128 points (that was 12 points more than Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid, who finished second), Steven Stamkos was ninth with 98 points and Brayden Point was 12th with 92 points.

As you’d imagine, the Lightning were the only team in the league to surpass the 300-goal mark in 2018-19 (they had 325) and only four teams gave up fewer goals than Tampa’s 222. Are you getting an appreciation for how good they were?

Let’s keep going.

They also had the best power play in the NHL at 28.2 percent and the best penalty kill 85 percent. Anybody who follows hockey would tell you that the Lightning were head-and-shoulders above the rest last season.

So when the playoffs started, no one expected them to flame out in Round 1. After all, they had clinched top spot in the league easily, they had the best roster, and their opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets, only clinched a playoff spot on the second-to-last day of the regular season. But hockey is a funny game. Not only did they lose to Columbus in Round 1, they failed to win a game in the series.

“We have the structure in place to be successful,” Stamkos said in April, per NHL.com. “We’ve had some really good playoff runs in the past. We had a really good regular season and it didn’t translate into playoff success.”

[MORE: Cooper under pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

The Lightning are at the point where it doesn’t matter what they do during the regular season anymore. Everyone will judge them by what happens in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It happens to every great team that doesn’t win it all. Just ask the Washington Capitals. That’s how they were treated until they won the Cup in 2018.

General manager Julien Brisebois will get a chance to shape this team into his image now that Steve Yzerman is no longer in the picture. BriseBois has found a way to add some quality depth players to the roster, but he still needs to sign Point, who is currently a restricted free agent. Expect that to happen eventually.

“I don’t have a precise timeline,” BriseBois said last month. “I feel very optimistic … [Contracts with players like Point who don’t have arbitration rights as Group 2 restricted free agents] are just a little more complicated to get done, and the deadline to get something done is essentially the start of training camp.”

Whenever that contract gets done, the Lightning will be able to put all of their focus on the ice. The sooner they can do that, the better off they’ll be. But again, regardless of what they accomplish during the regular season, it won’t mean anything if they can’t win it all come June.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

caufield surgery
David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.