Puck Drop Preview: 2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning

2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word on Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick.  Today the series continues with the 2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning.

2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning

2019-20 Season

There is no way to describe the 2019-20 season for the Bolts other than successful. Tampa Bay was able to lift the Stanley Cup for the second time in franchise history. After a gruelling start to the season where many were wondering if they could return to playoff form, they kicked things into high gear and looked even more dangerous than they did a year prior. Before they had all of the talent in the world but were unable to get anywhere with it. They used the assets they had to acquire gritty players they had lacked in the past. It all paid off when captain Steven Stamkos raised the Stanley Cup high over his head.

The path to the Stanley Cup Final was not easy. They had to face a nightmare matchup in the first round, a gritty Columbus Blue Jackets squad that had swept the record-breaking team a year prior. Tampa conquered their fears after winning an incredible five-overtime game. They next faced the Boston Bruins. Another difficult task as they went up against the season’s President’s Trophy winners. The Lightning prevailed in a quick fashion. In the Eastern Conference Final, they dispatched a New York Islanders team that had mastered the art of defensive hockey. Their final test would be the Dallas Stars, a franchise that few saw making it this far. They gave the Lightning a good fight, but it was not enough. Tampa Bay stood alone at the top.

2020 Offseason

Many thought this would be a trying offseason for Tampa Bay. The team was right up against the salary cap with few expiring contracts of significant monetary value. With some creative maneuvering and the help of some rebuilding teams, they were able to come out on the other side just as strong as they came in. Although defenceman Zach Bogosian was lost in free agency, they managed to retain both Luke Schenn and Pat Maroon . Both were instrumental in the team’s ability to win a title.

The most difficult task that awaited general manager Julien Brisebois was re-signing stud defenceman Mikhail Sergachev. It would not come cheap, as the young blue-liner has shown incredible growth in recent years. While many teams would have wanted to sign him to a long term extension, the Lightning would have to settle for a bridge deal. He signed for three more years with a cap hit of $4.8 million. This team is ready to compete again and they should be a threat to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.

Lineup Projections

Tampa Bay is going to be a loaded team yet again. They have all the talent you could ask for on this roster and head coach Jon Cooper will be able to get creative with his lineups. This team has a deep roster that can compete with every team in the NHL and could be favoured to win another Stanley Cup.

Forwards

Ondrej Palat – Brayden Point – Steven Stamkos

Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Tyler Johnson

Barclay Goodrow – Yanni Gourde – Blake Coleman

Pat Maroon – Mitchell Stephens – Mathieu Joseph

Extra: Alexander Volkov

Top Six

The Lightning have one of the most formidable lineups in the NHL as it stands. They are currently without former Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov. He could return for the playoffs and is currently on long-term injured reserve. In the meantime, Ondrej Palat should assume top-line duties as his temporary replacement. Point proved last postseason that he is a true top-line centre. Alongside captain Steven Stamkos, they should be Tampa’s dynamic duo for much of this season.

The second line is still one to be reckoned with. It is arguably one of the best second units in the NHL. Killorn and Johnson are both veteran forwards who have been here before. They have spent years with the organization and are capable of posting 50 point seasons. Alongside rising star Anthony Cirelli, they are a threat to put pucks in the net.

Bottom Six

The third line is where things get interesting. Yanni Gourde is another player who is capable of playing on the second line. As a matter of fact, they all are. Tampa’s third unit is better than some team’s second units. They can play a fast and physical game that wears down their opponents. While Coleman and Goodrow may not be as much of a scoring threat as Gourde, you still have to be aware of them when they are on the ice.

Tampa’s final forward group is exactly what they were missing when they were swept by Columbus in the 2019 postseason. This line is all grit. Pat Maroon is a bully on the ice who won back-to-back cups with the St. Louis Blues and the Lightning. Joseph is a similar player but younger and with a higher offensive upside. Mitchell Stephens fills the centre role. A second-round pick by Tampa Bay made his NHL debut last season and they certainly hope he can build upon his six-point campaign.

Defence

Victor Hedman  – Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh – Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev – Luke Schenn

Top Four

Tampa Bay not only has a stout blue-line but excellent leaders in their top two defensive pairings. As alternate captains, Hedman and McDonagh know how to be a presence in the locker room as well as on the ice. McDonagh was the captain of the New York Rangers before arriving in Florida. Victor Hedman is also a winner of the Norris Trophy. With these two leading the way on defence, the Bolts certainly wish they played opposite sides and could put them on a pairing together.

The two right-side defencemen in the top four are both capable of eating up minutes on the ice. While they may not stick out as incredibly gifted at any particular aspect of the game, they are still solid defenders. Jan Rutta has learned from some of the best, playing in Chicago on the same team as Duncan Keith, prior to his arrival in Tampa Bay. Cernak still has more room to develop and playing on the same pairing as McDonagh certainly helps.

Bottom Pair

Mikhail Sergachev is one of the NHL’s rising stars. He has been overshadowed during his NHL tenure, playing on a roster with Hedman and McDonagh, but is a star nonetheless. Sergachev is a brilliant defenceman with offensive upside, as shown by his 34 points in 70 games last season. He will be fun to watch as his career progresses. While he is more talented than playing on the bottom pair, that is the downside of being the third-best left defenceman on the roster, even if he is their third-best overall. Pairing him with veteran Luke Schenn gives their bottom pair additional grit.

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Anyone who says McElhinney will challenge Vasilevskiy for control of the net this season clearly has not watched hockey in the past four years. Ever since becoming the starter for Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy has played lights out. As a Vezina trophy winner, he should be the starter barring injury. McElhinney will be a capable backup for the star goalie but should see most of his game action in nights with back to back games this season.

Players to Watch

Brayden Point

Point is one of the most exciting players on Tampa Bay’s roster. He broke out two seasons ago with a 92 point campaign. Although he had a down year during the regular season last year, he bounced back in the playoffs. Many argued he could have won the Conn Smythe trophy. As he assumes a role on the top line this season, he should be fun to watch as Tampa Bay’s future in the 1C slot.

Mikhail Sergachev

Sergachev’s three-year extension was not unwarranted. He has developed well during his time in Tampa. Learning from some of the best defencemen in the NHL will do that. A top draft pick by the Montreal Canadiens, the Lighting were happy to trade for him. He is one of the team’s rising stars and is a steller defenceman. His ability level gives the Lighting three equally talented defensive pairings that they can rotate with relatively even playing time.

Prediction for the 2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning

This team can contend for another championship. While they may have come into this season with doubts about that, it is clear now. The injury to Nikita Kucherov gives them the extra money they needed to get under the salary cap and keep their stars. If he is able to return in time for the playoffs, they could be lifting Lord Stanley once again. As we approach the new season, don’t be surprised to see the 2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning at the top.

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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