The Tampa Bay Lightning were trying to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions for the first time since the Pittsburgh Penguins. Gearing up for their title defense in the NHL’s shortened 56 game season, the team came to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Luke Schenn and forward Pat Maroon.
Winners of 36 games in the regular season, the Lightning finished in 3rd place in the Central Division. They were active at the trade deadline to gear up for a deep playoff run. General manager Julien Brisboit added both Columbus defenseman David Savard and Fredrik Claesson from the San Jose Sharks.
Receiving a much-needed boost late in the regular season, Tampa Bay activated star forward Nikita Kucherov off injured reserve. Out for the regular season after undergoing offseason hip surgery, the 28-year-old recorded 85 points during the 2020 season. In tough against the high-powered Florida Panthers during their opening round, the team was able to dispatch them in six games. Making quick work of the Carolina Hurricanes in round two, a 2-0 victory in game five propelled the Lightning to the playoff semi-finals.
Narrowly escaping the New York Islanders in a back and forth series with a victory in game seven, the team would match up with the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals. Outclassing their opponents in just five quick games, the franchise captured their second consecutive cup and the third one in 15 years.
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By the Numbers
Powerplay: 22.35% (9th)
Penalty Kill: 84.15% (4th)
Goals For: 181 (Tied for 8th)
Goals Against: 147 (6th)
Best Player: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Stellar once again during the regular season, Vasilevskiy earned his second straight Vezina Trophy nomination after capturing the award in 2019. Pacing all net-minders with 31 victories, the 26-year-old tied his career-high with a .925 save percentage. Racking up a 2.21 goals-against average, he recorded five shutouts while facing the second-most shots across the league.
He continued his recently dominant stretch of play in the postseason. The former first-round pick amassed a shutout in each series-clinching victory to help Tampa Bay repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Standing tall in the most significant moments, he played over 1,300 minutes while logging an astounding 12.8 goals saved above average. Cementing his status as the best goaltender in the world, Vasilevskiy was awarded the Conn Smythe award as the most valuable player of the playoffs.
Biggest Disappointment: Salary Cap Peril
Taking advantage of the NHL’s long-term injured reserve system, Tampa Bay entered the playoffs $18 million over the cap. Forced to get under the league’s projected $81.5 million flat cap number, look for the team to be forced to part with strong-depth players to shed expensive contracts. Already trading forward Barclay Goodrow to the New York Rangers, the franchise also exposed core pieces like Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat, and Alex Killorn in the expansion draft.
With winger Blake Coleman joining Savard as pending unrestricted free agents, look for the franchise to be forced to part with one of their longest-tenured players in center Tyler Johnson. A member of the team since 2011 after signing as an undrafted free agent, the 30-year-old Spokane native will account for $5 million against the cap next year. Unlikely to return, look for the Lightning’s road to the playoffs to be much more difficult next season.
Behind the Bench Analysis
Jon Cooper was already a Calder Cup champion during his time with the Syracuse Crunch in the American Hockey League. Adding a second Stanley Cup championship to his impressive resume, the 53-year-old continues to be one of the brightest minds in the game. A two-time Jack Adams Award finalist, he has amassed 454 victories during his time in Tampa Bay while leading the Lightning to the playoffs seven times.
Finding a way to connect with each player, the British Columbia native can get the most out of every team member. Furthermore, he remains one of the best coaches in the league at preparing before games while also making adjustments on the fly. For nine years after taking over midseason in 2012, as a member of the organization is the longest-tenured head coach in the NHL.
Front Office Analysis
Taking over for Steve Yzerman in 2018, BriseBois helped led the franchise to their first President’s Trophy. In addition to this, the 44-year-old has captured back-to-back Stanley Cup titles as the front office leader. Acquiring pieces a year ago as they aimed to get back to their first Stanley Cup Final since 2014, he traded top prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick for Coleman. The former director of hockey operations for the Montreal Canadiens also acquired Goodrow from San Jose.
Maximizing their title window and remaining active at the trade deadline this past season, he again parted with their first-round draft choice. Flipping it to the Blue Jackets in exchange for Savard, the longtime executive would get a good return for his investment after the defenseman assisted on the winning goal in game five to help the Lightning go back to back.
2021 NHL Entry Draft Picks/Prognosis
The team will hold just six picks in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Without their first-round choice, Tampa Bay will also not have their second-round pick after they acquired Savard. Sending it to Montreal a year ago, the Lightning received the 57th overall pick in the 2020 draft in exchange for a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2021 second-round selection. Making three choices in the 7th round, the team sent Louis Domingue and Connor Ingram to the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators.
Waiting until the third round to make their first choice, expect the franchise to focus on adding a depth forward. They require cheap rookie contracts to help navigate their salary cap challenges. Furthermore, look for Tampa Bay to add a prospect on the blue line, with their top four continuing to log significant minutes.
Offseason Wishlist/ Checklist & Prognosis for 2021-2022
The Lightning enters the offseason focused on shedding expensive contracts to inch closer to the $81.5 million salary-cap number. Already offloading Goodrow to the Rangers, the team will likely be without two of Gourde, Palat, and Killorn on opening night next season. A consistent playoff performer during his career, Killorn has provided the Lightning with consistent top-six minutes.
They will be forced to rely on their own house to provide depth scoring during the 2022 season. The team will hope that playoff hero Ross Colton and former fourth-round pick Mathieu Joseph can take the following steps in their development. Unlikely to resign any of their pending unrestricted free agents, the franchise will also need to begin to look to the future, with Point due for a new contract in a year after leading the playoffs in goals.
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