Just five times in the 100-plus year history of the National Hockey League has a team won the Stanley Cup three straight seasons. The Tampa Bay Lightning ended up two games short of joining rare air, as they saw the Colorado Avalanche hoist the Cup in Amalie Arena two nights ago. Safe to say they weren’t last year’s Montreal Canadiens. Even with the superb postseason, Andrei Vasilevskiy put together, he could only do so much in the latter two rounds. Even before the Cup Final, the New York Rangers had them in deep trouble entering period three of game three in the East Finals.
Ultimately, Tampa didn’t pull off the three-peat for several reasons. You can look at the power play that went a horrendous 2-of-19 in their final six games. Playoff warrior Brayden Point playing in just two games and under 35 minutes of total ice time due to injury. The two overtime losses in games one and four, the former happening under 90 seconds in. Or even big trade acquisition Brandon Hagel falling off the face of the earth. The bottom line, in any case, is this. For the first time in a couple of years, Tampa was not the better hockey team in a playoff series.
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By the Numbers
Power Play: 23.94 (8th)
Penalty Kill: 80.56 (11th)
Goals For: 287 (8th)
Goals Against: 233 (6th)
No netminder in the NHL has been a more dominant presence between the pipes in the last decade than Vasilevskiy. To no surprise, that trend continued for the most part in the 2021-22 season. The 27-year-old Russian won a league-high 39 games (tied with Sergei Bobrovsky). While additionally, he also ranked 10th in both goals-against average (2.49) and in save percentage (.917 percent). Although he missed out on being a Vezina Trophy finalist, no one was going to beat Igor Shesterkin after the mind-numbing season he had. Either way, Vasilevskiy has been the surest thing about the Lightning for several years now and will be for years to come.
At the deadline, Tampa sent off two first-round draft picks (2023 and 2024) and change to the Chicago Blackhawks to get the aforementioned Hagel. He is only 23 years old and has some years left to rectify things, but the early returns are not great. Hagel’s production fell off a cliff once he got to the Lightning, going from 0.67 points per game to 0.31 points per game once he got shipped off.
The playoffs did not get better for Hagel either. The points per game only went down by 0.05, but Hagel all but disappeared for long stretches. He put up zero points from game seven against the Toronto Maple Leafs to game five against the New York Rangers. Hagel also scored two goals the entire postseason and just one in a 21-game stretch. Again, he is still young, but that is not what the Lightning were expecting when they gave up two future first-rounders.
Behind the Bench Analysis
Jon Cooper once again guided the Lightning to the promised land that is the Stanley Cup Final. However, this year’s Cup Final wasn’t exactly his shining moment. First up, after an overtime loss in game one, Tampa got throttled 7-0 in game two. On top of the team not being ready, Cooper left Vasilevskiy out to dry completely for all seven goals. Not what you would call an ideal decision, regardless of if Vasilevskiy wanted to stay in or not. With the workload he had this season, even a period or a period and a half off would have done him some good, plus the morning skate he took off for rest afterward.
The Lightning power play was also abysmal in the Cup Final, which partially falls on Cooper. This was a top 10 team on the man advantage in the regular season and put it in the back of the net just twice on 19 power plays. Even without Point, that is inexcusable for a team and coach with the recent track record of success they had. On the whole, Cooper was outcoached by Jared Bednar when all the chips were down.
Front Office Analysis
Julien BriseBois did a good job at giving the Lightning a real shot at the threepeat. Even with the subpar early returns on the Hagel trade, he made another depth move that made a difference. That of course was Nick Paul, who nearly single-handedly won game seven for Tampa on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He likely won’t be back next season, but for just a 2024 fourth and Mathieu Johnson, that was a bargain for BriseBois.
With the Paul and Hagel moves, Tampa also was able to retain their first-round pick this year as well. With that said, they will have to trade off pieces to get back under the cap. As of now, they are just above one million dollars over, meaning someone will have to go. Last year it ended up being Tyler Johnson, who was dealt for the contract of Brent Seabrook. Who will it be this go around?
2022 NHL Entry Draft Picks
BriseBois and the Lightning will have seven picks to play around with for this year’s draft. They do not have a second or third-round pick but double up in the final two rounds. Tampa has had the luxury of not having to rely on in-house for prospects as of late, but that trend needs to change moving forward. Dating back to 2016, Tampa has drafted just two players who have logged 100 or more NHL games. Those two are Ross Colton and current Vegas Golden Knight Brett Howden. This is a massive draft as well, seeing as the Lightning will be without their 2023 first and second-round picks, and 2024 first.
Offseason Wish/Checklist for 2022-2023
As stated, the Lightning will have to send off players to become cap compliment. Or they could cheat the system with LTIR stashing as they did in 2020-21. In either case, this roster could look different for this fall, and BriseBois will most certainly not have the cap space to make a big splash. What the lack in capital funds they can make up for in the promise of a title run. A worthy pitch to veteran players who’d be willing to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Although he could be out of price range, Phil Kessel would be an intriguing addition. Nearing age 35, the former two-time Cup Champion quietly put together a solid campaign this season with the Arizona Coyotes, tallying 44 assists and eight goals. Should he be willing to take a dip in pay, he would be a worthy replacement for Ondrej Palat. Paul Stasny is another name who could make sense, who just had a 21-goal 24-assist season with the Winnipeg Jets. If Kessel goes elsewhere, the long-time veteran would make a ton of sense.
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