We’ve now made it past the holiday season but there is still plenty to be thankful for. Like the last few years, PHR will take a look at what teams are thankful for but this year comes with a bit of a change. Normally teams would have an idea of where their season was heading, coming up on the one-quarter mark with mountains of statistics to analyze. Instead, in this unprecedented year, things are just getting underway. We’ll still take a look at what each group is excited about and what they could hope for with the league approaching the one-quarter mark of the season.
What are the Lightning most thankful for?
Steven Stamkos picking up where he left off. After missing the end of the regular season plus all but 2:47 of the playoffs, it was fair to wonder if the oft-injured star would be able to go back on the top line and pick up where he left off. With seven goals and seven assists in just 11 games, he has done exactly that. His minutes haven’t changed despite Nikita Kucherov’s season-long absence but he’s still logging over 18 minutes per game, second only to Alex Killorn among Tampa Bay forwards. Yes, he was a late scratch last night but it wasn’t injury-related as he was added to the CPRA list today although Stamkos tweeted earlier today that the belief is it’s a false positive test. If true, he should be back soon. Kucherov’s absence puts more strain on Tampa’s top players and despite the question marks surrounding Stamkos heading into the season, he has certainly delivered so far.
Who are the Lightning most thankful for?
Brayden Point. The 24-year-old has worked his way up from being a third-round pick back in 2014 to a franchise center quite quickly. His two-way play earned him plenty of playing time early in his career and his offensive output soon followed with a 92-point season back in 2018-19. In the early going this season, he’s producing at an even higher point per game pace with 16 points in just a dozen contests. Along the way, his defensive play has blossomed to the point where he’s regularly garnering Selke Trophy votes. Teams are happy when players picked in the middle of the third round make it to the NHL for a handful of games and feel even better if they can become a regular somewhere in the lineup. Getting a cornerstone piece with a third-round selection though is something they’re ecstatic about.
What would the Lightning be even more thankful for?
No setbacks for Kucherov. While they’re ruled him out for the entire regular season, that’s as far as they’ve gone, suggesting that they hope to have him back at some point in the playoffs when the salary cap isn’t in effect. With how deep they’ve had to go into LTIR already, Tampa Bay basically has no wiggle room to work with in terms of trying to make any in-season moves so when it comes to trying to add so they’ll be quite thankful if Kucherov’s recovery simply goes according to plan.
What should be on the Lightning’s wish list?
With minimal LTIR room at his disposal, GM Julien BriseBois can’t do a whole lot. They’d still love to find a taker for Tyler Johnson who’s off to a bit of a tough start this year but that contract still isn’t movable without a significant sweetener. In terms of what they can realistically do, depth additions at or near the league minimum will be the goal. Defensive help would be ideal but when that’s all a team can do, any minor upgrade would be worthwhile.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.