With the NHL preseason underway, PHR continues to look at every team prior to the regular season. Today, we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Last season: 46-31-5 (97 points), Finished 2nd in NHL Atlantic Division. Defeated Detroit 4-1 in the first round; Defeated New York Islanders 4-1 in the second round; Lost to Pittsburgh 4-3 in Eastern Conference Finals.
Cap Space Remaining: $5.55MM via CapFriendly.
Key Newcomers: None
Key Departures: None
Player to Watch: Ben Bishop. There are so many players to keep an eye on (namely Nikita Kucherov), but Bishop is intriguing because of what general manager Steve Yzerman will do as the netminder enters the final year of his contract. With Andrei Vasilevskiy waiting patiently behind him, Bishop has become a valuable commodity. Does Yzerman hold onto him for insurance purposes and unbelievable goaltending depth? Will he peddle him at the trade deadline or even before that, trying to pick up additional depth for a deep Stanley Cup run? While many wonder what he’ll do, Yzerman has proven to be the master negotiator and a front office executive who will do whatever it takes to strengthen the team. With Bishop coming off of a stellar season, it will be interesting to see if Bishop can replicate the performance, and if so, whether it will be with the Bolts or another team starved for a great goaltender.
Key Storylines: Is this the season Tampa Bay puts it all together and wins the Cup? Tampa is one of the deepest, if not the deepest team in the NHL, and a major contributor to that is Yzerman. As problem after problem faced the team, Yzerman barely broke a sweat navigating every issue. Jonathan Drouin demands a trade? No problem. Yzerman remained firm, let the situation blow over, and when trouble brewed in the way of injuries, Drouin was brought back to the big club and amazingly, peace was restored. Drouin also went on to be a major factor in the Bolts’ return to the conference final.
Steve Stamkos had a number of suitors lining up for what could have been the biggest free agency bonanza since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and Yzerman locked him up before free agency could even begin. He then re-upped with Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov, J.T. Brown, Cedric Paquette, Victor Hedman, and Vasilevskiy. While they didn’t add or subtract any major players, Yzerman locked up significant pieces with the exception of Kucherov, who is holding out for a new contract. If there’s anything to be said, it’s that Yzerman will find a way to solve the problem, be it through a trade (think the Martin St. Louis deal that Yzerman won) or a new contract–though the latter will be more difficult to maneuver. If Yzerman does trade Bishop down the road, expect him to find a defenseman to help shore up the blueline.
Should the Lightning stay healthy, there are few teams that could rival them in the regular season or playoffs. This could be the season that Yzerman, Jon Cooper and company bring a second Stanley Cup back to Tampa.