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