Tampa Bay Lightning: Is This Their Year To Win Cup?
Fresh off their longest offseason since 2013, the Tampa Bay Lightning are hungry to prove themselves. A team picked by many to win the Stanley Cup a year ago ended up missing the postseason altogether. Now they’re determined to show everyone that miss was a fluke, not at all indicative of the team they are.
Up front, they’re returning pretty much the same group. Nikita Kucherov will be asked to carry a heavy load, something he thrives at. He’ll undoubtedly be part of the MVP conversation if the Lightning remain in the postseason chase and could be favored to win the award if they capture the Atlantic Division crown. Last season’s 85 points in 74 games served as proof that this young player is coming into his own, a scary sight for the rest of the league.
He’ll have plenty of help, as the Lightning boast one of the NHL’s deepest forward groups when healthy. Unfortunately, health has been a bit of an issue for this team. Captain Steven Stamkos was limited to 17 games a season ago before undergoing knee surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear. Third line winger Ryan Callahan appeared in 18 games between two hip surgeries. In fact, no one played in all 82 games. The closest was Alex Killorn, a top six winger who experienced a down year in 81 games.
During the offseason, general manager Steve Yzerman had tough decisions to make. With Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin all set to receive big paydays as restricted free agents, he had to move somebody. With a rocky relationship dating back to early 2016, he decided to trade Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens for defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev. The 19-year-old has big shoes to fill, as Drouin was a legit power play threat. The kid has a chance to prove himself though, a by-product of making the Lightning’s opening day roster.
Speaking of defense, Victor Hedman clearly leads the team in that area. In a down season for the team, he ended up being a Norris Trophy finalist. His 72 points were second on the team, far beyond any of his fellow blueliners. Paired with Jake Dotchin late in the season, he found himself thriving in nearly every aspect of the game. Veteran Dan Girardi was added via free agency to bring experience to a group that includes three players who spent much of last season in the AHL.
In net, the Lightning hope Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready to take the reins full-time. Last year, he compiled a 23-17-7 record in 47 starts. Many of those victories came after Ben Bishop was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in late February. He kept the team in games, giving them a chance to win. Those are both good signs heading into his first season as the starter. Peter Budaj, acquired in the Bishop trade, was re-signed and will serve as the backup.
Can the Tampa Bay Lightning carry out their goal of winning the Stanley Cup this year? Barring injuries or bad luck, the sky is the limit for a team again pegged to top the Eastern Conference and make it deep into the 2018 playoffs.