One of the greatest regular seasons of the modern era was wiped away with a first-round sweep. Have the Tampa Bay Lightning learned their lesson? Here’s everything you need to know about the team heading into the 2019-20 NHL season:
“Utter humiliation” probably isn’t a strong enough phrase to describe how the Lightning felt after their first-round loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets after one of the most dominant regular seasons in NHL history. The Stanley Cup was being fitted for their hands, and instead they were handed a broom by the Blue Jackets. It was a study in lack of poise, execution and that extra gear that teams must find in the postseason to win by any means necessary.
On paper, the Lightning are the best team in hockey, full stop. This was the most egregious playoff collapse under coach Jon Cooper, but not the first. How do they get past that adversity? How do they learn how to win it all?
The Lightning added one player who knows a thing or two about postseason success: Big Rig Patrick Maroon, the winger who helped the St. Louis Blues to their first Stanley Cup last season. They shipped out forward J.T. Miller to Vancouver (for a deal involving a first-round pick) and signed a recently bought out Kevin Shattenkirk to a $1.75 million one-year bargain. The biggest signing news was getting RFA Brayden Point to ink a three-year bridge deal at $6.750 million annually, when his market price was significantly higher.
The Bolts are basically capped out this season and almost already there next season (16 players signed, $7.3 million under the current cap). But that’s the price of doing business with the best roster in hockey.
The Lightning avoid a first-round disaster, but fall short of the Stanley Cup again.
The Lightning have so many known quantities that it’s hard to identify a true breakout candidate, but Cirelli fits the bill. He had 39 points in 82 games as a rookie last season, finishing sixth in voting for the Calder Trophy. But it was his defensive play that earned high marks, finishing 11th for the Selke Trophy and winning almost 53 percent of his faceoffs, which was better than Point.
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Depth. They have it all over. Nikita Kucherov won the Hart and Pearson trophies, along with the scoring title at 128 points. Steven Stamkos (98 points) and Point (92) join him up front, along with Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, Cirelli, Cedric Paquette and now Maroon.
That inability to break through in the playoffs. The sweep against the Blue Jackets. Game 6 losses that preceded Game 7 losses in the Eastern Conference final against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and the Washington Capitals in 2018 — the latter in back-to-back shutouts. The Lightning are an intimidating team in the regular season. Is there anyone afraid to play them in the playoffs now?
2. Nikita Kucherov, RW
5. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G
7. Victor Hedman, D
10. Steven Stamkos, C
39. Brayden Point, C
It helps to have the No. 1 ranking in both NHL roster and cap/contracts, with the owner/GM/coach rating not far behind (No. 2). However, the prospect pool (No. 21) kept them out of the top spot.
Pipeline ranking: 26
With Brayden Point out for the first month as he recovers from offseason surgery, the Lightning depth chart gets really interesting. Does the team pair up Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, and if so, who plays the other wing? Do they stay separate, and if so, who plays center with Kucherov? There is much to be decided, but I’m keeping an eye on two guys: Cirelli and Carter Verhaeghe.
When you have three guys hitting 90-plus points, there is some windfall to be found in the periphery. As such, whomever lines up with Stamkos, Kucherov and, eventually, Point, will need to be on your fantasy radar.
So, this defense is pretty deep, eh? On many other teams, McDonagh and Shattenkirk would be tabbed for power-play duty. As it is, Sergachev barely gets a role on the man advantage because Hedman is the top dog here. I think all boats sink a little together for fantasy value among these D-men, because there are so many options to share the load. — Sean Allen