TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
LAST SEASON: 50-24-8, 108 points. Second in Atlantic Division. Lost to Chicago Blackhawks in Stanley Cup final.
COACH: Jon Cooper (third full season)
ADDED: F Erik Condra.
LOST: F Brenden Morrow.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Steven Stamkos. Signing one of the NHL’s most prolific scorers to a contract extension was the franchise’s top priority this offseason, and the defending Eastern Conference champions failed to get it done. While GM Steve Yzerman says he’s optimistic about getting a deal done ”at some point,” the situation has the potential to become a distraction if it lingers deep into the season. Stamkos was second in the league with 43 goals last season, the fourth time he’s topped the 40-goal plateau. His 253 goals since the start of the 2009-10 season rank second to Alex Ovechkin’s 256.
OUTLOOK: Anything short of a return to the Stanley Cup final – and winning – will be a disappointment. The roster is virtually the same, G Ben Bishop has recovered from a torn groin during the Cup final, and the high-scoring ”Triplets” line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej say the team will losing to the Blackhawks in six games will serve as motivation, much like being swept by Montreal in the first round two years ago drive the Lightning last season.