With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning.
2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning
Record: 43-21-6 (92 points in 70 games) second in Atlantic, East.
Leading Scorer: Nikita Kucherov – 85 points (33 goals and 52 assists)
In-Season Roster Moves
- Traded away Louis Domingue early in the season.
- Sent Nolan Foote and a conditional 2020 first-round pick to the Devils for Blake Coleman.
- Traded Anthony Greco and a 2020 first-round pick to the Sharks for Barclay Goodrow and a 2020 third-rounder.
Blame it on a hangover from that stunning sweep by the Blue Jackets, or maybe subtler factors, but the Lightning limped into 2019-20. Things looked shaky through November, as they ended that month with a mediocre 12-9-3 record. There was even a point where Kucherov got benched.
At some point, though, a flipped switched and the Lightning returned to their dominant form.
While Kucherov hasn’t been able to match his historic 2018-19 output, he once again ranks among the most lethal scorers in the NHL. The Lightning enjoyed strong work from the usual suspects — Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman — and a second consecutive strong season from Andrei Vasilevskiy.
To the Lightning’s delight, they clearly continue to spot talent beyond the obvious, too. Anthony Cirelli already looked like a gem, but in 2019-20, he rose to the level of being a dark horse candidate for the Selke Trophy.
Cirelli should win the Selke for this play by itself. pic.twitter.com/OfQPPfvq03
— Bolts Jolts (@BoltsJolts) February 9, 2020
You could rank the Lightning among the teams that should be most upset about the pandemic pause.
Most obviously, the Lightning might not get a chance to avenge that Blue Jackets sweep if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs don’t happen. Even if they do, who knows how such a pause might affect how sharp players end up being?
There are other troubling thoughts. This Lightning team must always wrestle with the salary cap, so who knows how many shots they have left before they become less of a “complete” team? Considering Steven Stamkos’ latest injury, who knows how the aging curve will hit the Bolts?
The Lightning also made aggressive moves to win now with rentals. Sure, Goodrow and Coleman are under contract for 2020-21, but Tampa Bay paid big prices for them for two playoff runs, not one.
At least the Lightning enjoy as good a chance as any contender if play does resume, though.
Highlight of the season
You mean, beyond that Cirelli backcheck against Mathew Barzal?
From late December to mid-February, the Lightning put together an absurd 23-2-1 run. That’s the kind of streak that makes you want to remove and clean your glasses, even if you don’t own glasses. You know you’re up to something special when you set a record you didn’t manage in a historic 2018-19 season, as the Bolts won 11 straight.
Naturally, the Lightning hope that the biggest highlights of their 2019-20 season are yet to come, but that hot run was impressive nonetheless.
MORE ON THE LIGHTNING
• Lightning biggest surprises and disappointments so far
• Lightning’s long-term outlook
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.