Jan Rutta

Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning
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What is the Lightning’s long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Lightning have been favorites to win the Stanley Cup for the past few seasons due to their cornerstone pieces at every level. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov lead the forward group and are the top two point scorers on the Bolts roster through the first 70 games. Victor Hedman is the most prominent name on a well-balanced blueline and Andrei Vasilevskiy was in the discussion for the Vezina Trophy.

In addition to the stellar building blocks, the Lightning also have secondary offensive firepower. Brayden Point is close to becoming a foundational player, if he is not there already. Alex Killorn was closing in on a 30-goal season, Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde and others contribute in a meaningful way.

Tampa Bay also hasn’t seen the true impact of trade deadline acquisitions of Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman.

The Lightning have all the pieces needed to accomplish their goal of winning a championship but remain in limbo until society solves the COVID-19 pandemic.

Long-Term Needs

The wish list in Tampa Bay is quite short. The organization has accomplished a lot in recent years but still needs to get over the final hump and win a Stanley Cup. Ultimately, the Lightning’s regular season performance had little impact on the judgment of this team as long as they reached the postseason.

The long-term needs for the franchise are essentially the same as other teams that have a core in place and compete for a championship year in and year out. Find value in the NHL Draft process and continue to produce prospects that can contribute in one way or another to the varsity team. General manager Julien BriseBois also needs to manage the salary cap effectively and not fall into the trap of paying for past performances but rather remain focused on the future.

Long-Term Strengths

The best asset of the organization is their current core group of players. Hedman, Kucherov, Stamkos and Vasilevskiy are all locked up for the next several seasons. Point’s contract does not expire until the end of the 2021-22 season and is close to becoming an integral part of the team, if not already.

If the NHL season does not return, the Lightning will be one of the more fascinating teams to watch this upcoming offseason. Will they blow it up as if they didn’t achieve their goal? Does Jon Cooper remain coach? Or, do they take another shot at a championship next season and reevaluate at that time?

The pause in action created a murky situation for the future of several NHL teams and the Lightning are near the top of that list.

MORE ON THE LIGHTNING
• Looking at the 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning
• Lightning biggest surprises and disappointments so far


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Lightning add defensive depth by signing Zach Bogosian

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With the trade deadline nearing, teams are coughing up picks and prospects, even for sheer depth. By that standard, the Lightning got a deal in merely signing Zach Bogosian off of the scrap heap. The team announced that it is a one-year deal with a prorated $1.3 million AAV.

Tampa Bay locked up Bogosian not long after he parted ways with the Sabres.

Injuries may have played a role in the signing, as the Bolts are a bit banged-up. Looking at the defense alone, Erik Cernak joins Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta as blueliners dealing with bumps and bruises. The Lightning didn’t want to chalk up a slight hiccup (two straight losses) to injuries, but they’re worth noting.

“It’s easy to blame that. That’s not who we are,” Victor Hedman said, via the Lightning website. “We’ve been battling injuries for a long time. I think we’ve done a great job of overcoming that. Bottom line is we’ve got to play better and not give up as many goals and just be better as a team.”

Bogosian mainly brings depth to Lightning

Expecting too much from Bogosian wouldn’t be wise. Injuries limited Bogosian to 19 games played so far in 2019-20. When he’s played, the impact has been minimal, with just five points and generally mediocre underlying stats. Gander at his RAPM charts at Evolving Hockey and you’ll gain further evidence that he’s mainly just a depth option.

That said, Bogosian brings experience, size, and a right-handed shot to the table. The Lightning don’t even need to give up a low-end pick for Bogosian, either, so that’s a nice luxury this late into the season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning could suddenly use help on defense

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The Tampa Bay Lightning don’t have any obvious holes on their roster when everyone is healthy. The Bolts were likely just going to do some minor depth tweaking ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, but that plan may have been thrown out the window this week.

In Tuesday’s win over the Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa lost defenseman Jan Rutta to a lower-body injury. Head coach Jon Cooper said the injury will keep him out for a few weeks. On Thursday night against Pittsburgh, they lost Ryan McDonagh to a lower-body injury, too. The veteran exited the game after taking a slap shot to the ankle. Cooper didn’t have provide much of an update after the game, but said it may not be as bad as it looked.

As of right now, the healthy bodies on the blue line are: Victor Hedman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brayden Coburn, Mikhail Sergachev, Luke Schenn and Erik Cernak. They’ll likely call someone up from the minors in the next little while so that they have an extra body around on defense.

Hedman already plays nearly 24 minutes per game, so it’s tough to envision him eating up a lot more ice time, but a player like Sergachev could be in line for a lot more work (he averages 19:29 of ice time per game). The rest of the ice time will likely have to be eaten up by a committee of players.

Now, general manager Julien BriseBois needs to figure out whether or not he wants to add a defender and how much he’s willing to pay for a depth one.

If they want to add a depth player, who could they target? Let’s take a look at some options.

Zach Bogosian – RD – Buffalo Sabres: Bogosian has struggled badly while in Buffalo, but a chance of scenery and playing on a different (and much better) team could make him a solid depth defender again. He’s in the final year of his monstrous contract and the Sabres could retain some of his remaining salary to make a trade work with the contending Bolts.

Trevor Daley – LD/RD – Detroit Red Wings: Daley has missed a good chunk of the season due to various injuries, but he could be a nice veteran addition to a team that only needs a depth player. The 36-year-old is on an expiring contract and he’s picked up four assists in his last four games. Daley has two Stanley Cup rings in his jewelry box. He’s allowed to provide the Wings with a 15-team no trade list.

Dylan DeMelo – RD – Ottawa Senators: DeMelo’s been an important part of Ottawa’s defense since they acquired him in the Erik Karlsson trade. He plays almost 20 minutes per game with the Senators, but likely wouldn’t see as much ice time on a contender like Tampa. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Sens may want to re-sign him though.

Brenden Dillon – LD – San Jose Sharks: The Sharks probably didn’t think that they’d be sellers at the trade deadline, but that’s where this aging group is right now. Dillon is going to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st and paying him a big sum of money probably isn’t in San Jose’s best interest. The 29-year-old has one goal and 14 points in 55 games this season. He’s added 79 penalty minutes this season and he averages 19:15 of ice time. He’d make the Bolts blue line tougher. Whether or not San Jose wants to part ways with him is another story.

Ron Hainsey – LD/RD – Ottawa Senators: The veteran has spent most of the season as Thomas Chabot‘s defense partner in Ottawa. He’s capable of playing both sides and he’s also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Hainsey also has a Stanley Cup ring and plenty of experience, which could be huge for a Lightning team that’s looking to shake off the embarrassment of a first-round sweep last spring.

Marco Scandella – LD – Montreal Canadiens: Scandella was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in early January for a fourth-round draft pick. He’s from Montreal, so he may want to just re-sign there eventually, but the Lightning only need him from the trade deadline to the end of their playoff run anyway. The 29-year-old has three goals and 10 points in 46 games this season. He averages 17 minutes of ice time per game. He could likely be had for a third or fourth-rounder.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Should Winnipeg Jets stand pat at trade deadline?

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There are whispers that the Winnipeg Jets could stand pat at the trade deadline and get away with it.

It’s not necessarily the most popular opinion, but one that has gained a small following given how their season has shaped up to this point.

The growth of rookie forward Kyle Connor, who scored his 21st goal of the season on Sunday, has been impressive. Connor went from a mediocre training camp that saw him begin the season in the American Hockey League to play a vital role on Winnipeg’s top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

Jack Roslovic began the season in the AHL and was only called up recently to fill in the gaps as Winnipeg’s health began to deteriorate. Now, Roslovic, a dynamic player with speed and play-making ability, has performed so well that he likely won’t see the minors again.

The Jets are also anticipating the return of towering center Adam Lowry (out with an upper-body injury) and defenseman Jacob Trouba (out with a lower-body injury) by the time the playoffs roll around, turning into quasi-trade deadline additions.

The Jets, who have scored 13 goals in their past two games, are as good as any other team in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders. A recent adjustment to their lines — one that included putting 20-plus goal scorers Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine on the third unit — has diversified Winnipeg’s top-nine to a scary extent.

The Jets have three lines that are capable, at the moment, of putting up a lot of points on any given night. So the argument that the Jets don’t need to add someone to their top-six, or even their top-nine, has some merit.

That said, as the old sports cliche goes: there’s always room to improve. The Jets could still use some depth on the fourth line. Matt Hendricks, while a good presence in the room and a decent penalty killer, isn’t the quickest player on the ice. Joel Armia shows flashes of brilliance and then goes on long stretches where he’s mostly invisible. The return of Brandon Tanev from injury will be useful in that regard. But adding a budget center could be the shrewd move general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to solidify a solid fourth-line combo.

On defense, Ben Chiarot has played admirably in place of Trouba but he may be a surplus to requirements when Trouba returns. One wonders what Cheveldayoff is thinking when it comes to Toby Enstrom, however. The diminutive defenseman had a tough outing in the physical department during the Jets last playoff appearance — their only visit since returning to Winnipeg — during the 2014-15 season. And his injury history should have the Jets thinking about at least shoring up that possibility.

The Jets could turn to Chiarot’s size and physicality in a similar scenario or could turn to the trade market for another option.

This is a good headache for any general manager. The Jets are one of the top teams in the NHL without having made a trade thus far this season.

Their goaltending has been spectacular, their power play has been lethal and their penalty kill is up near the top. Bell MTS Place has become a place teams go to die and the Jets, at the moment, would have home-ice advantage in the first round.

It makes for an interesting week leading up to Monday’s trade deadline.

Here’s a look at what the Jets could be/are considering:

Forwards

Rick Nash: A pricey rental player that would add size and scoring to the Jets top-six. But pricey is the key word here and it’s unlikely the Jets want to dig into the farm to own a guy for a couple months.

Mike Hoffman: Skilled and quick with the ability to score. He would be a good fit for the Jets, but as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on the weekend, Hoffman has a limited no-movement clause and Winnipeg is on the list. With term left on his deal, the price wouldn’t be cheap either.

Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu: Two depth forwards that would bolster Winnipeg’s bottom end. Maroon isn’t the fastest guy around, and he’s not scoring 27 goals like he did last season playing with Connor McDavid. But a fresh start after not getting a contract in Edmonton might be just what Maroon needs to get his confidence up and running. Letestu, meanwhile, offers bottom-six depth up the middle. Matt Hendricks, currently occupying the fourth-line center role, didn’t play in last year’s playoffs for the Oilers. He could make way again depending on what the Jets do at the deadline. These would be cheaper options.

Ryan Hartman: It would be odd for the Chicago Blackhawks to trade a 23-year-old budding forward to a divisional rival, but stranger things have happened. Hartman had 19 goals in his rookie season last year and is playing on a very poor Blackhawks team this year. The price tag is likely high on him as well.

Mats Zuccarello: The New York Rangers announced they were holding a yard sale, and Zuccarello is a name that’s been thrown around when it comes to the Jets. Zuccarello is a good penalty killer and plays a game, not unlike Mathieu Perreault, who the Jets covet. Zuccarello also comes with an extra year on his contract. and could help the Jets beyond this season.

Defenseman:

Nick Holden: Continuing with the Rangers fire sale, Holden could be an option. He’s a left shot defenseman that could fill in for an injury to Enstrom. Holden’s possession metrics don’t jump off the page, but he’s a serviceable third-pairing guy who can play bigger minutes in a pinch.

Jan Rutta: One player the Blackhawks may be willing to part ways with is defenseman Rutta, who is on a one-year entry-level deal that’s set to expire at the end of this season. Rutta shoots right and has better possession metrics than Holden.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck