The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tampa Bay Lightning 2019-20 Rewind
Record: 43-21-6 (92 points); Second Place in Atlantic Division; Second place in Eastern Conference
Leading Scorers: Nikita Kucherov (33 goals, 85 points)
After their disappointing 2019 playoff exit, a four-game sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets following a record-setting 62-win regular season, the Lightning came back in 2020 and won the Stanley Cup. That championship simply solidified what we already knew about the organization as a whole — it has produced the NHL’s most dominant team over the past six years where they have more regular season wins, more playoff wins, and more goals scored than any other team in the league. They have been in the Conference Finals in four of those six years, the Stanley Cup Final twice, and now they have the championship to validate it all for this core.
They also have a great chance to win it all again.
Marian Gaborik (trade — will not play), Anders Nilsson (trade — will not play)
Cedric Paquette (trade), Braydon Coburn (trade), Zach Bogosian (free agency), Kevin Shattenkirk (free agency), Carter Verhaeghe (free agency)
3 Most Interesting Tampa Bay Lightning
• Steven Stamkos. After missing all but three minutes of the 2020 playoffs Stamkos will be back in the lineup for the start of the season. It is perfect timing for the Lightning given that they will not have Nikita Kucherov for the entire regular season.
It seems crazy to say given how productive he has been, but given how many stars the Lightning roster has developed recently, as well as the fact they just went through a championship run without him, it has been kind of easy to forget just how good he is when he is healthy.
Stamkos is still an elite offensive force and was having an incredible 2019-20 season (29 goals, 66 total points in only 57 games) before his injury, and then came back in the playoffs one game and scored a goal on one of his three shifts.
Had he not missed so much of his prime years to injury he would already be closing in on 600 career goals and maybe even have another championship on his resume.
• Anthony Cirelli. He is not as well known as Stamkos, Kucherov, or Brayden Point among the team’s forwards, but Cirelli is quickly becoming one of the team’s most important and valuable forwards. They just keep finding impact talent and restocking the cupboard year after year. The absence of Kucherov during the season, as well as the offseason departures of Paquette and Verhaeghe, is only going to make him even more important this season.
How good is Cirelli already? Well, in his first two full seasons he has finished 11th and fourth in Selke Trophy voting respectively. He has also shown improvement each season offensively and could easily have 25-goal, 60-plus point potential. That sort of offense with that level of defense is the type of player every general manager in the league should be desperate to get on their roster. Which makes it all the more fascinating there was not more of an offer sheet attempt when the Lightning were pressed against the salary cap.
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• Victor Hedman. The best defenseman in the NHL. The forwards are great. Andrei Vasilevskiy is an elite goalie. Even with all of that being true it is Hedman that powers this team.
He brings an incredible mix of shutdown defensive ability and game-breaking offense to the Lightning defense while also playing 25 minutes a night. He has been a finalist for the Norris Trophy four years in a row, won it once, and added a Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup to his trophy case this past season. Do not be surprised if he adds another Norris Trophy to that case this season.
The best case for the Lightning is that even without Kucherov during the regular season they are still good enough and deep enough to get through the regular season without issue, then get a fresh Kucherov back for the start of the playoffs. While their division has some really good teams in it (Carolina and Dallas respectively) they are going to be the clear favorites and it is not hard to imagine them being back in the final four for a fifth time in seven years.
If they get there, who would want to bet against them end up back in the Stanley Cup Final?
Injuries would probably be at the top of the list, whether it be a new one or Kucherov not being able to return for the playoffs. They are one of the best teams in the league and should easily be a top-four team in their division and be back in the playoffs.
The thing is, even if they do not go far in the postseason — whatever the reason might be — it would be difficult to find much disappointment in it if you are a Lightning fan. There have only been three repeat champions since 1990 and only a handful of additional teams that even made the Stanley Cup Final two years in a row.
Pointsbet – Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup odds
Pointsbet Stanley Cup odds: Lightning +900. (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.