Puck Drop Preview: 2022-23 Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup Loss 2021-2022

Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews is back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 Tampa Bay Lightning.

2022-23 Tampa Bay Lightning

2021-22 Season

The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2021-22 season as defending back-to-back Stanley Cup  Champions. The Lightning jumped back into the Atlantic Division following the shortened Covid-19 season.

Tampa Bay entered the season with +700 odds to win the Stanley Cup for a third straight season. The Colorado Avalanche entered as the favourite to win the Stanley Cup at +650 odds. Oddly enough, of course, the two juggernauts met up in the Stanley Cup Final.

Lightning Shed Salaries to Remain Cap Compliant

The defending champion Lightning was forced to move some players from the 2020-21 championship before the season started. Both center  Tyler Johnson and right wing Barclay Goodrow were traded during the off-season. Blake Coleman left the Lightning in free agency, signing with the Calgary Flames. Defencemen David Savard and Luke Schenn left as free agents signing with the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks, respectively.

The Lightning’s additions were limited due to salary cap restraints, and overall they entered the 2021-22 season with a roster not as deep as in their previous two.

Nikita Kucherov was injured early in season

In the Lightning’s third game of the season, Kucherov suffered a lower-body injury. The injury required extended time out of the line-up, further hampering the Lightning’s depth.

Kucherov didn’t return until January 6, 2022, following a procedure on the injury. The former Hart Trophy recipient played 47 games scoring 25 goals and 44 assists for 69 points.

Steven Stamkos Eclipses Century Mark for First Time

Captain Steven Stamkos set a new career high for total points as he eclipsed the century mark for the first time in his career. He scored 42 goals and 64 assists, totaling 106 points on the season.

2020-21 Season Stats

Tampa Bay scored 51-23-8 during the season, finishing with 110 points. As incredible as the season was, 110 points placed them in third place in the robust Atlantic Division.

The Lighting showed no signs of slowing with the roster changes from the previous season. Veteran Corey Perry signed a one-year deal and played admirably. A Breakout performance from Ross Colton helped alleviate their losses as well.

2021-22 Stanley Cup Playoffs

For the first time in many seasons, the Lightning entered the playoffs, considered by many as the underdog in their first-round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs. As fate would have it, Toronto’s playoff woes continued, and the Lightning won the series in 7 games.

A cross-state rivalry matchup was set for the second round as the Lightning took on the Atlantic Division leaders Florida Panthers. The Lightning began to roll and wasted no time in disposing of the Panthers. Goalie Andrei Vasilevsky played a remarkable series, and Tampa swept Florida in four straight.

The Lightning won a tightly contested Eastern Conference Final over the up-and-coming New York Rangers. For a third consecutive season, Tampa Bay would appear in the Stanley Cup Finals.

In the Stanley Cup Final with the Colorado Avalanche, the Lightning lost their first series in three years. The Avalanche knocked out the back-to-back champs in six games.

2022 Off-season

During the off-season, two more vitally important depth players departed from the franchise. Ondrej Palat signed a 5-year $30 million contract with the New Jersey Devils. Palat, a critical depth forward with the Lightning, played an instrumental role in the club’s playoff successes. Ryan McDonagh was traded to the Nashville Predators in a move to provide the Lightning with some salary cap relief. Tampa Bay received a younger defenceman, Philippe Myers, and forward prospect Grant Mismash.

When discussing the decision to trade, McDonagh general manager Julien Brisebois said, “We’ve freed up some cap space for this year, 2022-23, but more importantly, we freed up some cap space for 2023-24 and beyond, which I hope will allow us to secure the rights to Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak for years to come.”

Speaking of Cirelli, Sergachev, and Cernak, all three were successfully signed to contract extensions following the trade. The three of them all signed 8-year contract extensions.

Tampa Bay was able to bring a few depth pieces through free agency. Forward Vladislav Namestnikov returned to the Lightning on a one-year deal. Veteran defender Ian Cole also signed a one-year contract, and defenceman Haydn Fleury signed a two-year deal with the Lightning.

Lineup Projections

Forwards

Vladislav Namestnikov-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov

Alex KillornBrayden PointBrandon Hagel

Ross ColtonNick Paul-Cole Koepke

Patrick Maroon-Pierre Édouard Bellemare-Corey Perry

Top 6

The health of Point and Kucherov will play a massive role for the Lightning this season. When healthy, the duo, accompanied by Stamkos, form one of the most effective power plays in the league. With Cirelli starting the season on the injured reserve, re-acquired Namestnikov will get the first crack playing on Tampa’s top line.

The second line leaves some questions that remain to be answered. In last season’s trade deadline acquisition, Hagel has too short of a résumé to tell how effective he will be in a top 6 role. Point is entering the season healthy after being injured in the first round last season. Killorn has consistently been a dependable secondary scoring piece for Tampa Bay.

When healthy Cirelli gives Tampa the option of slotting him in on the second line and moving Point to the first line.

Overall the Lightning boasts a solid Top 6 compared to many other teams across the league.

Bottom 6

The addition of Namestnikov will help address the scoring lost from Palat’s departure. Colton had a breakout last season, and Paul played great with the Lightning after being acquired at the trade deadline.

Tampa Bay’s fourth line gives them the perfect combination of grit and scoring touch. Veteran Perry had an excellent first season as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Perry and Maroon can get under the opponent’s skin and have the skill to score timely goals.

The third and fourth lines for the Lightning give them everything any team could ask for. A perfect mix of depth skill and scoring to go along with the grittiness required to be successful in playoff hockey.

Defence

Victor Hedman-Cal Foote

Mikhail Sergachev-Eric Cernak

Ian ColePhilippe Myers

Top 4

Hedman is a perennial Norris candidate defenceman, and Cal Foote continues to shape his game as an up-and-coming NHL’er. Playing alongside Hedman will be incredibly beneficial for the young defender, Foote.

Third Pair

The signing of veteran Ian Cole provides the Lightning with a very capable bottom pairing defenceman. While the younger Myers still has room for growth, the pairing will give Tampa Bay the depth they need to make another deep playoff run.

Goalies

Embed from Getty Images

Vasilevsky, over the past few seasons, has been the best goaltender in the league. “Big Cat” will eat up most of the workload and is absolutely clutch when it matters most.

Elliot will back up Vasilevsky as he did last season. The former all-star is a dependable backup when expecting an unreasonable workload.

Whenever you have one of the best goalies in the world, your team has a chance to win every night.

Players to Watch

Nikita Kucherov

Kucherov will be a player to watch this season regarding his health. The former Hart Trophy winner is coming off back-to-back injury-riddled seasons. If Kucherov can stay healthy for the whole season, it will be interesting to see where he finished amongst the Art Ross candidates.

Brayden Point

Point is also coming off of an injury after appearing in just nine postseason games last season. Point’s health will be worth keeping an eye on over the season. He is now three seasons removed from his 92-point season in 2018-19. The Lightning will benefit greatly should Point return to the kind of production.

Prediction for 2022-23 Tampa Bay Lightning

As with any dynasty team, the salary cap makes its impact. The impact of losing key players over the years will be felt; however, Tampa has done a great job of getting younger players to fill the void. The players have played more hockey than any other team in the league over the past three seasons. Expect the Lightning to clinch another postseason berth finishing second in the Atlantic division. Look for Tampa Bay to make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals again this season.

 

 

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