Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-3Tampa Bay Lightning

42-30-10, 94 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division (’16-’17)

Additions: D Mat Bodie, F Michael Bournival, F Alex Gallant, D Dan Girardi, F Chris Kunitz, G Michael Leighton, D Jamie McBain, D Mikhail Sergachev, F Carter Verhaeghe

Subtractions: F Jonathan Drouin (traded to MTL), F Byron Froese (signed with MTL), G Kristers Gudlevskis (traded to NYI), F Nikita Gusev (traded to VGK), F Henri Ikonen (signed with Jokerit, KHL), G Jaroslav Janus (signed with HC Slovan Bratislava, KHL), F Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (retired), F Greg McKegg (signed with PIT), G Mike McKenna (signed with DAL), F Tanner Richard (signed with Genève-Servette, NLA), D Matt Taormina (signed with MTL), F Joel Vermin (signed with Lausanne, NLA), D Luke Witkowski (signed with DET)

Still Unsigned: D Dylan Blujus, F Stefan Fournier, F Mike Halmo, D Jonathan Racine

Offseason Analysis: Steve Yzerman is a man with a plan for the Tampa Bay Lightning– not just because he’s the general manager, but because he literally has to have a plan somewhere with how he’s been able to carefully navigate avoiding salary cap hell while managing to keep a solid, young, core group of players in town.

Nic Cage is already writing the script for the Disney movie.

The Lightning just missed out on a 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance as the Toronto Maple Leafs secured the final spot on the second-to-last day of the regular season in a comeback win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. While frustrating for some, skipping a year of the postseason might have been a blessing in disguise from the hockey gods.

A healthy Steven Stamkos is a major bonus.

Tampa’s plus-7 goal differential was the 2nd worst goal differential in the Atlantic Division. Not that goal differential means everything in terms of league standings, but Stamkos’s absence was felt in the drop in offensive production compared to the season prior (plus-26 goal differential in 2015-2016).

Chris Kunitz brings his four Stanley Cups (the most of any current active player) and his 29 points in 71 games last season with Pittsburgh to the Lightning after signing a 1-year, $2.000 million deal. The 37-year-old forward has been in decline since the 2013-2014 season, but provides stability as a top-9 forward on the left side for the Bolts.

Even for his expertise, Kunitz’s numbers won’t be enough to replace the biggest loss from this offseason *ahem, a certain trade involving the Monreal Canadiens*.

On the blue line Tampa added Dan Girardi, which gives the Bolts three defensemen who are at least 31-years-old, but thankfully all of them have two-years and modest salary remaining on their deals, while rookies and 2017 1st rounder, Callan Foote, look to crack the roster.

And to give credit where credit is due, Yzerman’s biggest loss this offseason might just be one of his biggest gains in the seasons to come.

Yes, the Lightning sent forward, Jonathan Drouin, and a conditional 2018 6th round pick to the Canadiens in exchange for 19-year-old– high caliber– defensive prospect, Mikhail Sergachev and a conditional 2018 2nd round pick.

Drouin witnessed a 21-point improvement from his rookie year (32 points in 2014-2015) to last season, notching 21 goals and 32 assists for 53 points in 73 games played. In just 21 games played the year prior, after a minor-league holdout and team suspension, Drouin had 4-6-10 totals.

While Kunitz enters on the downhill of his NHL-career and Drouin was traded, one cannot forget that 40-goal scorer Nikita Kucherov exists. Kucherov’s 85 points led the Lightning in scoring last season and look to be matched, if not improved, this year.

For the Canadiens, acquiring Drouin was necessary to replace the departed Alexander Radulov, however trading Sergachev– especially after trading Nathan Beaulieu to Buffalo– weakened their blue line depth and increased their average age.

Drouin wasn’t the only forward traded away from Tampa, as Nikita Gusev found himself victim of the 2017 Expansion Draft, whereby the Lightning sent Gusev, a 2017 2nd round pick and a 2018 4th round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for future considerations (a.k.a. not selecting a certain player). Vegas claimed defenseman, Jason Garrison, as one of their own instead and the Bolts went on their way.

Finally, the post-Ben Bishop era Lightning that we got a glimpse of last season are exactly who we expect this season. Andrei Vasilevskiy returns as the starting goaltender with Peter Budaj as his backup according to Yzerman and Jon Cooper’s master plan for getting Tampa back into the playoffs and maybe– just maybe– back into the Stanley Cup Final.

Of course, this meant that NHL-ready backup, Kristers Gudlevskis fell victim to being too good to sit lower in the depth chart, stopping pucks for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. The Lightning traded Gudlevskis to the New York Islanders this offseason and received forward, Carter Verhaeghe, in return.

Offseason Grade: C+

For what they had to address (re-sign everyone that you can and do nothing), Tampa had an average offseason. They added guys who replaced expendable parts (like most teams these days, shelling out one or two-year contracts) and they might have shot themselves in the foot in the immediate fallout of the Drouin trade. But like anything, only time will tell.

A “C+” here doesn’t reflect that they’ll be a bad team– they’ll be a playoff team in 2018– it merely reflects that they were smart this offseason and didn’t overspend, overcompensate in trading or have a lack of transactions.

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