Despite Cup Final loss, Lightning confident in contending in 2022-23

The three-peat dreams were dashed but the Tampa Bay Lightning as an elite NHL team will continue on.

After losing the 2022 Stanley Cup Final to the Colorado Avalanche, the Lightning enter another offseason that will see a bit of change to their roster. But it won’t be change that impacts them to a level where they could drop a peg among the NHL’s  top teams and move out of Cup contender status. That’s not how that organization works, and it’s certainly not something the players are believing.

“Who said we’re done?” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos afterward. “This core is here. We’ve battled. We’ve been through everything you can think of and, for the most part, we’ve found a way to come out on top.”

Since Jon Cooper replaced Guy Boucher in March 2013, the franchise has reached four Cup Finals, six conference finals/Stanley Cup Semifinals, and won two titles. You could say this was the first time in three seasons they were not the better team in a playoff series.

[MORE: Avalanche win Stanley Cup, end Lightning repeat bid in Game 6]

“It’s not like we lost to some powder puff,” Cooper said. “That’s a baller team over there. We never had home ice. We played all these star-studded teams. They found a way. We just ran into one more brick wall, and we just couldn’t get through this one.”

What should give Lightning fans hope is that the roster isn’t aging, and when it’s time to move on, the organization finds replacements in-house through their development system or via shrewd moves in free agency.

General manager Julien BriseBois heads into the summer with some more salary cap gymnastics to perform, per Cap Friendly, but that’s nothing foreign to him. Ondrej Palat and Nicholas Paul are among the unrestricted free agents on the roster. Meanwhile, BriseBois has to keep an eye on summer 2023 when Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev, and Ross Colton are the key restricted free agents who will be looking for extensions, while Alex Killorn, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, and Corey Perry might be saying goodbye after their contracts expire.

Those are decisions that will be handled and there won’t be any surprise if the Lightning enter the next season even stronger than they were in 2021-22. They may have failed at winning three Cups in a row, but three in four seasons? Sure, why not?

“The playoff streak, that ended, but it’s not the end of our run,” said Stamkos.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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