There is no longer a “yeah, but…” hanging over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Now that this core of players has its championship, there can no longer be any debate as to where they stand among the best teams of this era. For six years now they have been the best team in hockey. Nobody has won more games than them in the regular season, nobody has won more games than them in the playoffs, and they finally — finally! — had everything go their way at the right time.
The idea that this team has somehow “underachieved” come playoff time is completely unfair and takes away from the daunting challenge that is winning the Stanley Cup. They have been in the Eastern Conference Final in four of the past six seasons, and twice made it through to the Stanley Cup Final. In the other two years they lost Game 7s to the team that went on to eventually win the Stanley Cup. No other team in the league has consistently gone that far in the playoffs during that stretch. It was only a matter of time until a team this successful and this good had it all click.
The Lightning are a lesson in patience, trusting your talent, and sticking to your plan that you know is successful, instead of overreacting and dismantling something before you have to.
They are a lesson in not being afraid to go for it at the trade deadline and add the one or two pieces you need to fully round out your roster (Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow). A late first-round pick might make it to the NHL someday. There is a small chance they will have a productive career. But banners? Banners hang forever.
[More: Lightning win Stanley Cup]
Now that they have this banner, there is no reason to think they can not add another one in the very near future with this core.
Potentially as soon as next season.
They have every ingredient on their roster to do it again.
For starters, we already know this team is capable of making a deep run. Even when it fell short of a championship in recent years it was still RIGHT THERE on the threshold of greatness.
- They went through this postseason without the face of their franchise, Steven Stamkos. He will be back next season and is still an elite goal scorer.
- They have a superstar in Nikita Kucherov that is one of the most dominant offensive players in the league and still in the prime of his career.
- Brayden Point has gone from “good young player” to “top-tier scorer” in the blink of an eye.
- Victor Hedman is the best all-around defenseman in hockey, and for as much as we talk about their offensive brilliance, they are also a fantastic defensive team.
- They have a dominant second line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow returning for what should be a bargain price.
- As if that is not enough, they also have one of the league’s best goalies in Andrei Vasilevskiy, also still in the prime of his career. This team is so good and so loaded that Vasilevskiy just went through a Stanley Cup winning postseason where he played every minute in goal for his team, posted a .927 save percentage, recorded a shutout in the Cup-clinching game, and was not even one of the top-three or four contenders for the Conn Smythe trophy. He was an afterthought.
It is an insanely talented and deep roster with almost all of the major players under contract long-term.
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That brings us to the questions they do have to face this offseason.
Shattenkirk would be a big loss, and it is difficult to see them being able to bring him back on another cheap deal given the season he had, but they do still have the rights to Sergachev and Cernak.
Restricted free agency is going to be tricky. Along with the two defenders, they also have to re-sign Anthony Cirelli and Carter Verhaege. At the moment, the Lightning have just a little more than $5 million in salary cap space at their disposal.
That will not be enough to re-sign all of Sergachev, Cirelli, Verhaege, and Cernak, so some corresponding moves will have to be made. Tyler Johnson ($5 million cap hit) and Alex Killorn ($4.5 million cap hit) would seem to be the most logical places to start. The only potential issue there is both players have no-trade clauses as part of their contracts. That doesn’t mean they can not or will not be moved. And while such a move would hurt, it is another good argument for why the Coleman and Goodrow trades were so impactful given their value and cheap contracts for next season.
In the end, the Lightning roster will almost certainly look a little different next season. But as long as the same core is in place, and as long as they continue to have a steady pipeline of young talent coming through their system (could someone like Alex Barre-Boulet be their next hidden gem?) there is no reason to think they are going away as Stanley Cup favorites.