PHT Morning Skate: McDavid, Hall win their first Cup together

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

The Oilers are champions once again! Well, sort of — Connor McDavid and Taylor Hall were part of the team that captured the Biosteel Cup, a 4-on-4 tournament held during the pre-training camp gathering of NHLers. (Sportsnet)

The Blue Jackets have inked Paul Bittner — their second-round pick (38th overall) at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft — to a three-year, entry-level contract. (Oregon Live)

Lee Stempniak, still an unrestricted free agent, really wanted to remain a Winnipeg Jet (Sportsnet)

Leafs d-man Stephane Robidas has resumed skating after recovering from a shoulder injury, and getting a screw removed from his previously broken leg. (Toronto Sun)

Good piece here on Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay’s “superstar goalie in waiting.” (Sports Illustrated)

Under Pressure: John Carlson

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We wrote yesterday about how most teams that win the Stanley Cup have an elite center, like Jonathan Toews.

Well, most teams that win the Cup also have an elite defenseman, like Duncan Keith, the 2015 Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Can John Carlson be that guy for the Washington Capitals?

The 25-year-old is coming off his best season as a professional. In 82 games, he had 12 goals and 43 assists, his 55 points ranking fifth among NHL defensemen, behind only Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, P.K. Subban and Dennis Wideman.

And with the departure of Mike Green, the Caps will need Carlson more than ever to provide offense from the back end, while also continuing to improve in all the other areas of his game.

“I think with Carly, there’s been areas of his game that sort of would lag, and I think he’s done a really good job of focusing on those areas, so he can have that consistency,” coach Barry Trotz said in February, per the Washington Post. “He’s maturing as a player. He’s still a very young player who’s now entering the front end of the prime of his career. There’s lot of good things to see from him.”

Related: ‘It took him a few years, but Victor Hedman’s arrived’

PHT Morning Skate: The Replacements

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Could we see the return of Dale Hunter? Five potential candidates to replace NHL coaches during the NHL season. (Sportsnet)

How Ben Bishop traveled a long, winding road to success. (The Hockey News)

One argument for Johan Franzen to retire from hockey. (Puck Daddy)

What “defines” the St. Louis Blues? (St. Louis Game Time)

In Lou We Trust ponders the situation at hand for players who were “dead weight” for the New Jersey Devils during the 2014-15 season. (In Lou We Trust)

Who should be the next captain for the San Jose Sharks? (Fear the Fin)

Dawww:

Tampa Bay Lightning ’15-16 Outlook

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Tampa Bay’s mantra going into this summer might as well have been “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It certainly seems that was Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s philosophy as a trip to the Stanley Cup Final has led to a quiet offseason. At the same time, there is still the potential for organic, internal changes.

Forward Jonathan Drouin might find himself playing a bigger role next season after getting limited minutes in 2014-15 and barely participating in the playoffs. He has a ton of offensive upside as illustrated by his back-to-back 100-plus point seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads. If the 20-year-old forward can build off of his 32-point rookie campaign, then he will be complimenting an already deep offensive core.

At the same time, netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy’s rise last season has changed the dynamic of Tampa Bay’s goaltending. While Ben Bishop is still the team’s starter, Vasilevskiy should start pushing him for ice time. The potential is also there for a goaltending controversy should Bishop endure a sustained cold streak.

We might also see defenseman Slater Koekkoek earn a regular spot with the Lightning after playing in three contests with Tampa Bay in 2014-15. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and might become a significant threat with the puck and factor with the man advantage.

For the most part though, the status quo is expected to remain. Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Jason Garrison should once again lead Tampa Bay’s blueline. Stamkos remains the centerpiece of the offense while the hope is that the Triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat has another strong campaign.

The Lightning got a lot out of that core last season, which has earned them another chance to pursue a championship together.

Lightning’s biggest question(s): Everything about Stamkos’ contract situation

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are successful because they have a deep and talented roster, but at the foundation of that is Steven Stamkos. He’s one of the best players in the league today, which makes the fact that he might actually enter the season without a contract a huge issue.

To say that his situation is the Lightning’s biggest question would be insufficient because there are multiple angles to consider. The most immediate is why he hasn’t already signed.

Extending Stamkos was Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s clear top priority going into the summer. Stamkos’ agent Don Meehan did caution back in July that there wasn’t “any criteria on timing at this point,” but that was over a month ago. Now the question is if he’s going to enter training camp without a deal and if so, why. At that point it would become a big and constant distraction hanging over the Lightning and the longer he remained unsigned from there, scenarios that at one time were dismissed as implausible will start to look realistic.

For example, can Tampa Bay really afford to let a player of Stamkos’ caliber walk as an unrestricted free agent? If they don’t have a deal in place by the trade deadline, would the Lightning actually move him less than a year removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final? It might seem extreme, but that’s the direction the conservation heads in.

Of course, that’s only one scenario. Stamkos might still sign in August, killing that kind of speculation before it really takes off. However, even if there was a 100% guarantee that Stamkos would re-sign with the Lightning, this situation would still be their biggest question mark because there’s another factor in play: How much will he cost?

Stamkos has earned the right to become one of the league’s top paid players, if not the leader in that regard. However, the Lightning have a quite a few other noteworthy players that will need to be re-signed over the next couple of years, including Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman, and goaltenders Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. The bigger Stamkos’ contract is, the harder it will be to keep that group intact.

In other words, even if Stamkos re-signing is very probable, if he decides to hold out for the most lucrative possible contract, then his decision could lead to the Lightning losing one or more other important pieces.