Puck Drop Preview: 2021-22 Tampa Bay Lightning

2021-22 Tampa Bay Lightning
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Welcome to our latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. The Puck Drop Preview series takes you through each team as the season is fast approaching. The preview will focus on the narratives surrounding the team ending last year, during the offseason, and heading into the 2021-22 season. Puck Drop Preview also focuses on what the season has in store for each team from a roster and expectations perspective. Join us, as we look at all 32 teams before the season starts. Today, we take a look at the 2021-22 Tampa Bay Lightning.

2021-22 Tampa Bay Lightning

2021 Season

The champs are still here in South Florida. Tampa Bay went back-to-back and put its marker down for one of the best teams in the salary cap era. The Lightning may have finished third in the Central Division, but saved their best for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nikita Kucherov returned from an injury that put him out for the entire regular season.  Tampa Bay and their “$18 million over the cap” crew performed some number one BS to beat the Montreal Canadiens in the Cup Final.

“The Big Cat” Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Conn Smythe Award for playoff most valuable player. He staked his claim to being one of the best goalies in the league. Steven Stamkos was finally able to enjoy a full playoff ride and hoist the Stanley Cup.

The Off-Season

However, the party is over and there will be no “$18 million over the cap” jokes. (What Tampa did was still perfectly legal.) Barclay Goodrow was signed by the New York Rangers. Yanni Gourde was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft and Blake Coleman headed to the Calgary Flames. Tyler Johnson and Mitchell Stephens were also dealt in the off-season. Luke Schenn and David Savard also departed at the end of the campaign.

Tampa Bay didn’t stay silent as they brought in Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Zach Bogosian and Andrej Sustr. Brian Elliott comes in to back up Vasilevskiy in the net. Florida not having a state income tax will help them acquire veterans at a lower price than other teams probably can. Tampa Bay’s lineup will need time to gel, but they did a solid job of shedding cap space and reloading with some capable talent

Lineup Projections

Forwards

Ondrej PalatBrayden Point– Nikita Kucherov

Alex KillornAnthony Cirelli – Steven Stamkos

Alex Barre-BouletRoss ColtonMathieu Joseph

Pat Maroon — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Corey Perry

Extras: Taylor Raddysh, Gemel Smith

Top Six

The Lightning still possess one of the deadlier top-six units in the game. Kucherov is ready for the rigours of a full season and Point is fresh from a big contract extension. Palat and Killorn have been two of the more underrated but clutch scorers in the league. Stamkos can move around the lineup much like the rest of the top six. These two lines may have to fill in some of the scoring from the departure of many of Tampa’s vaunted third line.

All six of these forwards can be mixed and matched on the Lightning’s potent power play. The amazing thing is that the entire top six was drafted and not filled with free agents. Only Barre-Boulet wasn’t drafted by Tampa Bay and he was an undrafted free agent. It’s a testament to the front office and scouting department for cultivating this much talent.

Bottom Six

Tampa has to replace Goodrow and Gourde from its third line, but Colton is already being talked about as the next future standout. He made an impact in the post-season with four goals, including the Cup clincher. Joseph is also developing into a fine forward with 12 goals last season. Barre-Boulet has been an All-Star in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch and scored three goals in 15 games with the big club.

Veterans litter the fourth line that will be used to sit on leads and be physical. Perry found his game again with Montreal and can chip in with some goals. Maroon is a professional pain in the butt that can rile up opponents. Bellemare is used to being on talented squads like he was with the Colorado Avalanche. This is one group of players that can give the Lightning some snarl if needed. Smith and Raddysh are young players that can fill in if there are injuries or if the veterans need a break.

Defence

Victor HedmanJan Rutta
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev – Cal Foote

Extras: Zach Bogosian, Andrej Suster

Top Two Pairs

We all know Hedman is a perennial Norris Trophy contender and the steady play of McDonagh and Cernak. However, Rutta has evolved into a solid blueliner in his own right. He’ll be playing to get a raise in the final year of his contract that pays out $1.3 million. Tampa is already against the cap, so finding money for him could be a problem.

Cernak and McDonagh are also a deadly duo that has plenty of experience. They have a good mix of Cernak’s youth and McDonagh’s experience. Sergachev could also move up to the second pair if McDonagh gets hurt or head coach Jon Cooper wants to switch things up.

Bottom Pair

Having Sergachev on your third pair is not a bad problem to have, but finding a partner will be one of the bigger question marks. Foote should be given some looks, but Bogosian is there to give a veteran presence. This will be one of the more interesting roster battles. Suster returns from Europe to be an extra defender if needed.

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Brian Elliott

Extra: Maxime Lagace

Vasilevskiy will get the lion’s share of the start, but Tampa has a quality backup in Elliott. The backup goalie had been a problem in case the Russian went down, but Elliott may allow Vasilevskiy to get more games off. The former Vezina Trophy winner will hopefully be more rested for the post-season.

Players to Watch

Nikita Kucherov

The former Hart Trophy winner didn’t endear himself to many with his quoting of UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov’s “Numer one BS” line. Kucherov was injured for all the regular season and returned for the playoffs. However, some took exception to that. The Bud Light-sipping scorer would love a huge season to silence any critics once and for all.

Alex Barre-Boulet/Ross Colton

Both are similar in the fact they’re both young and on the third line. The duo seems to be the next big homegrown stars for the Lightning. Barre-Boulet may have a little more to prove in his first full season. Colton wants to take the next step and be like Gourde in being a clutch scorer from the third line.

Cal Foote

The son of the legendary Adam Foote is looking for a more permanent roster spot. He’ll be battling Bogosian for that place on the third pairing. He’s shown flashes of being a quality NHLer but is still young at 22 years old. Foote is ready to take the next step (no pun intended.)

Prediction for the 2021-22 Tampa Bay Lightning

Despite the change, the champions are still one of the favourites to get the three-peat done. They still have plenty of depth and have a balanced lineup. Tampa’s development system keeps churning out players that can fill in when others depart due to salary cap reasons.

The Atlantic Division will be tough with Montreal, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers are playoff teams. Tampa will also have to deal with the improved Ottawa Senators in the division. However, the Lightning should be in the mix to hoist their fourth Stanley Cup overall.

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