The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Tampa Bay Lightning.
2020-21 Season Review
• Record: 36-17-3 (75 points) third place in NHL Central Division
• Postseason: Won Stanley Cup over Montreal Canadiens in five games
• Offensive leader: Brayden Point (56 games, 23 goals, 25 assists, 48 points
• Free Agent Additions: Corey Perry, Pierre Edouard-Bellemare, Brian Elliott, Brent Seabrook (LTIR)
• Free Agent Subtractions: Barclay Goodrow (trade to New York Rangers), Tyler Johnson (trade to Chicago Blackhawks), Yanni Gourde (Seattle Kraken), Blake Coleman (Calgary Flames), Luke Schenn (Vancouver Canucks)
Biggest question facing the Tampa Bay Lightning?
• Did they lose too much depth?
The Lightning are going to have a full season of Nikita Kucherov and are still loaded with all-stars all over the lineup. Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasileskiy is still as good of a core as you will find anywhere in the NHL. But one of the driving forces behind the Lightning’s past two Stanley Cup wins was the line of Goodrow, Gourde, and Coleman, giving them a third scoring line that could not only score goals, but also shut down opposing offenses. When that trio was together, including regular season and playoffs, they controlled nearly 60% of the shot attempts and outscored teams by a 26-14 margin during 5-on-5 play. It was one of the most effective lines in all of hockey, and now all three of them are gone. Along with that trio, they also said goodbye to longtime standout Tyler Johnson in a salary cap clearing trade.
That is four significant depth pieces that are now playing someplace else.
[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]
Corey Perry and Pierre Edouard-Bellemare were brought in as free agents, while their talent pipeline is going to be put to the test. Can players like Ross Colton and Alex Barre-Boulet step up and help fill that void in the lower half of the lineup? If they can, the Lightning will be a force to be reckoned with once again.
What’s the salary cap situation?
With big money all-stars all over the lineup the Lightning are as close to the cap as a team can get, and one of the biggest storylines of last season was the way they exceeded in the postseason due to Kucherov spending the entire season on long-term injured reserve. By the time the playoffs rolled around they were close to $10 million over the cap. Don’t blame them, though. The NHL allows it and it was all within the rules. Still, though, they did have to make some significant changes this offseason and had to say goodbye to the aforementioned forwards. Point just signed a new massive deal this offseason that will kick in next year, while their entire core is locked in place long-term. The only major UFA’s they have in the coming years are Ondrej Palat, Patrick Maroon, and Jan Rutta. They will probably lose all three of them given the cap, but they are replaceable players right now.
• Alex Barre-Boulet
The Lightning always seem to have a couple of undersized, but wildly productive forwards that slipped through the NHL’s cracks on their roster. Boulet seems to fit the profile to be the next player to emerge from their farm system. Undersized? Check. Undrafted? Check. Scored a ton of goals at every level he played at? Check again. He has all of the boxes covered and should be able to get a real opportunity this season. He has absolutely dominated the American Hockey League the past three seasons, being one of the top goal scorers and point producers in the league, and scored three goals in his brief NHL action a year ago.
All of the stars stay healthy and players like Barre-Boulet and Ross Colton step forward to help fill the void left by the free agency/offseason departures of Johnson, Goodrow, Gourde, and Coleman. This should still be one of the best teams in the league and a top-five Cup contender. They have been the most dominant team in the NHL over the past seven years and there should be no sign of slowing down. The best case scenario? We get the NHL’s first three-peat since the New York Islanders 1980s dynasty.
Since the start of the 2013-14 regular season the Lightning have been in the playoffs in seven out of eight years; won more regular season games than any other team (379 — 11 more than next closest team, while only two other teams, Pittsburgh and Washington, have more than 360); won more playoff games than any other team (70 — the next closest team has 49 playoff wins); been in the Conference Final/Semifinals five times; and have been in three Cup Finals, winning two of them. The roster is still absolutely loaded with superstars. They are a sure-fire playoff team. The worst case scenario here is probably running into a hot goalie in the First Round, or not having some young players step forward on the bottom of the lineup, or just having a team that is worn down after back-to-back Cup runs in a short period of time. After back-to-back Stanley Cups, you can probably accept that if you are a Lightning fan.
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