Tampa Bay Lightning season preview: Similar roster looks to strike twice
Plus: The Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the best teams in the NHL in every facet of the game last season, but they failed to finish the job when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals. Tampa Bay will see nearly the same crop of players return. The biggest change was the addition of defenseman Erik Condra, who should shore up the bottom blue line pairings. Captain and leading scorer Steven Stamkos, who had 43 goals in 82 games last season, will likely work with the Lightning to work out a contract extension during the season, but if the two sides fail to reach an agreement, Stamkos will become a free agent next summer. This is a contract year for the star scorer, so expect Stamkos to play like a man who wants to get paid.
Minus: There are not a lot of glaring weaknesses, but the one word of caution with them is that Tampa is a young team that had players such as Tyler Johnson (72 points in 77 games), Nikita Kucherov (65 points in 82 games) and Ondrej Palat (63 points in 75 games) either enjoy breakout seasons or career years. Can each of the Lightning’s young stars repeat their strong campaigns? Tampa Bay also will have to hope goalie Ben Bishop stays healthy, as backup Andrei Vasilevskiy will be out for the first few months after having offseason surgery to remove a blood clot.
X-Factor: Jonathan Drouin
The Lightning do not need extra offense per se, but Drouin has been looked at as a talented prospect for Tampa for a couple of years and did not live up to expectations in 70 games last season. As a result, Drouin failed to see consistent time in the playoffs and still has a lot to prove. If Drouin does blossom, Tampa will suddenly have three dangerous scoring lines. If not, his future with the organization could be in question.
Prediction: The Lightning are a strong in all areas. While the Montreal Canadiens bested the Lightning in the division last season, the Canadiens largely rode into first place on the back of goaltender Carey Price’s career year. A Tampa team with unfinished business led by a captain in Stamkos who is playing for his next contract will be tough to top. Tampa should finish first in the Atlantic and is a strong Cup contender.