The Tampa Bay Lightning off-season has been a busy one, which is pivotal to their possible return to the playoffs. With new pieces added to the roster, the buoyant Bolts are eager to make a run at the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning Off-season: Moves to Return to the Playoffs
Last season the Lightning finished just one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card spot. That was a major achievement, considering they did it without captain Steven Stamkos, who missed the last 65 games due to a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. Had they made the playoffs, that would’ve been a step down from the 2015-16 season when they reached the Conference Final.
In the off-season, the Lightning added defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, a 19-year-old who was drafted ninth in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Sergachev came to the Lightning in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens that sent Mikhail to the Lightning along with a conditional second round pick in 2018 for star forward Jonathan Drouin and a conditional sixth round pick.
Sergachev is looking to make an impact on the NHL this season. However, he might not be ready just yet. Head coach Jon Cooper knows exactly what he wants on his team. Sergachev might not be in the plans just yet. A good time in the minors with AHL–affiliate Syracuse Crunch could help him get ready and fit for the top tier.
The Bolts also signed Dan Girardi to a two-year, $6 million contract at the beginning of the month.
Both moves bring much experience and depth to the squad. With Kunitz winning the Stanley Cup multiple times, he knows the process in how to reach the playoffs, let alone the Cup itself. Girardi has playoff experience as well. Maybe not along the same resume as Kunitz, but Girardi can help this team make it back to the postseason where they ought to be.
Lightning Retain Key Components
In addition to new players, the Bolts also regained old faces. Forward Tyler Johnson signed a seven-year extension. Last season, Johnson, 26, tallied up 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) in just 66 games. The extension is worth $35 million. Winger Ondrej Palat also signed a five-year contract worth $26.5 million just days after Johnson. Palat nailed 52 points (17 goals, 35 assists) in 75 games.
If Cooper were to stick with the same lineup, it wouldn’t be surprising. But seeing where the new arrivals will fit in is the tricky part.
Lineup Strengths and Weaknesses
On paper, the lineup looks legit. With the first line offense and defense, the possession stat leans heavily in the Bolts favor. Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are among the best defensive pairing in the league. Many goals can be scored, and teams can be held scoreless when they’re on the ice.
However, there is always a weakness to every team’s lineup.
That would go to the fourth line in Yani Gourde, Cedric Paquette, and J.T. Brown. If the three can get the chemistry going and increase their production where it needs to be, a couple of these guys can get promoted.
The Lightning opens their season at home against their in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers on October 6th.