Despite plenty of postseason success the last two seasons resulting in two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and a Stanley Cup Finals berth in 2015, the Tampa Bay Lightning have ultimately come up short of reaching their goal. Returning almost entirely the same roster for 2016-17, the Lightning should again be among the best teams in the east and one certainly capable of winning the Stanley Cup. And despite not adding much impact talent from outside the organization this summer, a minor addition might be the “missing piece” in the Lightning’s championship puzzle, opines Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.
Right-handed defenseman James Wisniewski, who missed all but one shift of the 2015-16 season because of an ACL tear, was signed by Tampa to a PTO and has an excellent chance of making the team out of camp. As Smith notes, the Lightning ranked 28th in the NHL in power play efficiency and that’s an area Wisniewski specializes in. The 11-year-veteran has tallied more than half of his 53 career goals on the man-advantage and has twice recorded seven in a single season.
The Lightning do list Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr as right-side defenders, though as a left-handed shooter, Coburn could potentially play on either side. Tampa also re-signed RFA Nikita Nesterov, another starboard-side shooter, further congesting that side of the blue line depth chart. But, as Smith writes, when GM Steve Yzerman reached out to Wisniewski, he indicated the team had been looking for a right-handed shot on the blue line who could help out on the man advantage and that should improve his chances of finding playing time in Tampa Bay.
Elsewhere in the NHL’s Atlantic Division:
- After a down year in 2015-16, Zemgus Girgensons is ready to turn the page and hopeful a consistent role with the Sabres will help him get back on track, writes John Vogl of The Buffalo News. Girgensons had a strong sophomore season in 2014-15 recording 15 goals and 30 points in 61 games. But under new head coach Dan Bylsma and moving back-and-forth from center to wing, Girgenson netted just seven goals and 18 points in 71 contests this past season. Bylsma is prepared to start the season with the 22-year-old Latvian at center with the hope it will allow him to rebuild some of his confidence. Girgensons inked a new one-year deal worth $1.15MM as a RFA and is banking on a much better season in 2016-17.
- Mitch Marner, selected fourth overall in 2015 by Toronto, is not a sure bet to make the Maple Leafs roster to open the 2016-17 campaign but if he keeps performing as he did Monday night, his chances look good. According to Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun, Marner was “electric” on the ice and generated several quality scoring chances for the Leafs. Marner finished with two assists in the Ottawa Senators 6 – 3 win over Toronto but the 19-year-old pivot was the best player on the ice for either team and took a great first step in convincing the Leafs he is ready for the NHL.