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Tampa Bay Lightning 2019-20 Season Preview

Tampa Bay Lightning

62-16-4, 128 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Columbus

Additions: F Pat Maroon, F Chris Mueller, F Gemel Smith, D Kevin Shattenkirk, D Luke Schenn, D Luke Witkowski, G Mike Condon (acquired from OTT), G Spencer Martin, G Curtis McElhinney, G Scott Wedgewood

Subtractions: F Andy Andreoff (signed with PHI), F Michael Bournival (retired), F Ryan Callahan (traded to OTT), F Gabriel Dumont (signed with MIN) F Adam Erne (traded to DET), F Mitch Hults (signed with Stockton, AHL), F Kevin Lynch (signed with Laval, AHL), F J.T. Miller (traded to VAN), D Dan Girardi (retired), D Anton Stralman (signed with FLA), G Connor Ingram (traded to NSH), G Edward Pasquale (KHL)

Still Unsigned: G Marek Mazanec (ELH, TBL reserve list)

Re-signed: F Danick Martel, F Cedric Paquette, F Brayden Point, F Carter Verhaeghe, D Dominik Masin, D Ben Thomas

Offseason Analysis: Despite tying the NHL record for the most wins in the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning couldn’t even win a playoff game and were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Every year, a lot of people pick the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup and every year, a lot of people are disappointed.

On paper, this team is like the San Jose Sharks– really good and should win every season. In reality, this team is nothing like the San Jose Sharks, because Tampa has at least won the Cup before in 2004.

Bolts GM, Julien BriseBois, had one primary focus this offseason– re-signing Brayden Point.

Everything else was just excess.

Anton Stralman became expendable at his high cost and Dan Girardi aged out of Tampa’s system.

In their place– veteran defenders in their prime and on one-year contracts– Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Schenn are fully capable of taking on top-six defensive roles with the Lightning. Shattenkirk is yet another former New York Ranger to head join Tampa– this time on a one-year, $1.750 million deal– and Schenn costs the Bolts a league minimum, $700,000.

BriseBois also brought in a revolving door of backup goaltenders with Curtis McElhinney as the main course behind Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Tampa’s starter himself (Vasilevskiy), signed an eight-year extension worth $76.000 million ($9.500 million cap hit) that goes into effect next season.

BriseBois negotiated a team-friendly bridge deal with Point, keeping the 23-year-old center in a Lightning sweater for three more years at $6.750 million per season (the same cap hit as Patrik Laine’s new deal with the Winnipeg Jets, but with an extra year).

In the third season of his current contract, however, Point’s salary will be $9.000 million, which means Tampa will have to tender a qualifying offer of at least $9.000 million to re-sign him three years from now.

Point’s going to get paid big money on his next deal and the Bolts are banking on the salary cap to go up with increased league revenue thanks to a new U.S. TV broadcasting rights deal that will have to be signed by then too.

For now, head coach, Jon Cooper can continue to relax and coach his casual style for the regular season, at least.

Come playoff time, he’ll have to tighten the reigns a bit in hopes of driving Tampa’s compete level to an all time high for what’s expected to be a deeper run than a First Round embarrassment.

To keep the band together for the time being, BriseBois shipped J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks for Marek Mazanec (since signed with a team in the Czech Republic), a 2019 3rd round pick and a conditional 2020 1st round pick in June, dumped Ryan Callahan’s contract and a 2020 5th round pick in Ottawa for now former Senators backup, Mike Condon, and a 2020 6th round pick in July and traded Adam Erne to the Detroit Red Wings for a 2020 4th round pick in August.

In the end, Point signed a team friendly cap hit, but with the long-term cost of having to rebalance the books in 2022.

Offseason Grade: C+

For a team that didn’t meet their high expectations, the Lightning met their goals for this offseason– don’t overreact and re-sign Point.

They made some minor moves and understand the core of the roster still has enough in it for at least a few more years together until bigger philosophical questions must come into consideration.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-19 Season Preview

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Tampa Bay Lightning

54-23-5, 113 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Lost in the Eastern Conference Final to WSH, 4-3

Additions: F Andy Andreoff (acquired from LA), D Cameron Gaunce

Subtractions: F Carter Ashton (signed, KHL), D Mathew Bodie (signed, KHL), G Peter Budaj (traded to LA), F Erik Condra (signed with DAL), F Alex Gallant (signed with VGK), F Chris Kunitz (signed with CHI), F Matthew Peca (signed with MTL), D Andrej Sustr (signed with ANA)

Still Unsigned: D Jamie McBain

Re-signed: F Adam Erne, D Slater Koekkoek, F Kevin Lynch, F Cedric Paquette

Offseason Analysis: The 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning had their best season in franchise history. Well, regular season, that is. Jon Cooper led his team from behind the bench to a 54-23-5 record (113 points) and the first seed in the Eastern Conference all the way to the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals– their former division rival in what was once the Southeast Division.

It was their first postseason meeting since 2011 and the Bolts had home ice advantage in a Game 7. What could possibly go wrong? Washington was never supposed to get past the Second Round, let alone beat the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to landing in the Eastern Conference Final– plus Alex Ovechkin was always criticized for his Game 7 play in his career– and the Lightning had all of their offensive weapons, including Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

But Stamkos had no points in Game 7 against Washington, similar to the last five Game 7s he’s played. In six career Game 7s, Stamkos is pointless. Both literally and figuratively, if you may.

Tampa was shutout on home ice and their 2018 postseason run came to a crashing halt, one win shy of reaching their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.

For a team that’s made the Eastern Conference Final in three of the last four calendar years (2015, 2016 and 2018)– they’ve only gotten better, yet they haven’t had the results they’ve wanted (or expected) by now.

Steve Yzerman walked into the Lightning front office with Stamkos and Victor Hedman already on the roster, he left its day-to-day duties having drafted Kucherov (2011) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), while signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson and acquiring Ryan Callahan, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller over the years.

Yzerman’s seamless transition from Tampa’s face of the franchise star in Martin St. Louis to Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. was destined to win a Cup while the former face of the Detroit Red Wings superstar was at the helm of operations.

But Yzerman stepped down as General Manager, leaving the duties of cap management and roster creation to now former assistant GM Julien BriseBois earlier this month.

BriseBois’ transition to power will be peaceful, as Yzerman was sure to lock up core members of the roster in Kucherov and McDonagh to extensions beginning in the 2019-20 season this offseason.

It’d be unfair to grade BriseBois’ offseason maneuvers over the last 16 days at the same weight as the rest of the GMs in the league, but it’s worth noting– neither Yzerman nor BriseBois were able to snag Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.

Instead, the biggest prize on the trading block this offseason went to the San Jose Sharks– a team the Lightning can only face in the postseason in the Stanley Cup Final. If they make it that far.

Yzerman chose not to re-sign Chris Kunitz and Andrej Sustr, seeing the former as too old for Tampa’s core and the latter as an expendable asset that was a healthy scratch most nights. He did, however, re-sign glue guy forwards Adam Erne and Cedric Paquette, as well as defender Slater Koekkoek to one-year bridge deals.

Their successful roster is largely intact, despite trading backup goaltender Peter Budaj to the Los Angeles Kinds for forward Andy Andreoff early this summer, but as Cooper seeks to decrease Vasilevskiy’s workload, Budaj’s 3.77 goals against average and .876 save percentage in eight games last season weren’t going to cut it– even with his injuries.

Budaj’s back with the Ontario Reign (AHL) after Jack Campbell beat him out for the backup job behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Louis Domingue looks to improve on his 2.89 GAA and .914 SV% in 12 appearances with the Lightning last season, after going winless in seven appearances with the Arizona Coyotes (4.33 GAA, .856 SV%) before being acquired by Tampa.

Budaj’s eight appearances and Domingue’s 12 games in a Bolts uniform left Vasilevskiy to suit up for a career-high 65 games last season. He had a 2.62 GAA and a career-high .920 SV% in what was a Vezina Trophy finalist year with a 44-17-3 record.

While Vasilevskiy is one of the top-starting netminders in the league, 65 games played in the regular season, plus a maximum 28 potential games in the postseason is nearly 100 games of hockey. Multiply that by 60 minutes and, well, you get the point (hopefully).

Cooper has to rely on Domingue and his defense to reduce the minutes Vasilevskiy has to stand on his feet (or head) in order to keep his number one goaltender from getting fatigued.

Goaltending is all about finding that sweet spot– both in the rhythm of the game while making saves and in the ebbs and flows of the season-long schedule (including the possibility of a deep postseason run).

Offseason Grade: C+

So that’s it really.

Tampa didn’t create a mega-defense, because they didn’t get Karlsson. San Jose did.

They didn’t cause a disturbance in the Force with two potential No. 91s that would’ve seen John Tavares assume a new identity on the roster, because the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the biggest free agent on the market.

And that’s okay.

For Tampa, an “average” offseason meant sticking with their guys– the ones that reached the Final in 2015, almost reached it in 2016 and were brought in for the Conference Final run in 2018. Other than nailing down a backup goalie, the Bolts are ready to defend their top of the table standing in the Atlantic Division.