It didn’t happen until the Stanley Cup Finals, but a team finally eliminated the Lightning. The Avalanche were simply the better squad, but that doesn’t close the window for Tampa Bay’s third cup in four seasons. They have quickly rebuilt their bottom-six, which supplements an outstanding top-two lines. This offseason saw them extend a ton of young players long term, so a lot of guys aren’t going anywhere for a long time.
Offseason additions: D Ian Cole, F Vladislav Namestnikov, D Philippe Myers, D Haydn Fleury.
Offseason subtractions: D Ryan McDonagh, F Ondrej Palat, D Jan Rutta.
The loss of Ondrej Palat really weakens the left side of the forward core. What doesn’t help is that center Anthony Cirelli could miss the first two months or so of the season with an injury. Cirelli’s injury will make the opening night lineup look scary, but as long as they are in the playoffs, the Lightning don’t really care about the regular season. A prime example of that is Nikita Kucherov, who did play in the regular season in 2021-22, but only for 47 games. He scored 25 goals with 69 points, which is a pace that would come close to his 128-point, Hart-winning 2018-19 season. At even strength, Kucherov was on the ice for a ridiculous 4.29 goals for per 60 minutes. While he led the team in goals in both Cup-winning runs, Brayden Point only played in nine playoff games, with just five points. Limited to just 66 contests in the regular season, Point scored 28 goals with 58 points. Tampa Bay could turn into a full one-line team if they keep Steven Stamkos on the top line. In his first full regular season since 2018-19, Stamkos scored 42 goals with 106 points, and was once again the best player on the team. He added 11 more goals in the postseason. He played more center this year, but Tampa likes him on the wing. With Cirelli out, he could move over.
In his tenth season with the Lightning, Alex Killorn’s 59 points was his highest. Twenty-five of them were goals. One potentially concerning thing about Killorn is that he was the only regular forward on the team with an expected goals for percentage under fifty. Cirelli’s injury means that Nick Paul will have to step into the top-six for the time being. After coming over at the deadline from Ottawa, he had 14 points in 21 games, then added nine more in the postseason. Paul is a big body with defensive talent like Cirelli, although he lacks the offensive upside. The other big move made at the trade deadline was for Brandon Hagel, who rode a shooting percentage over twenty to a 25-goal season. With only six points in the playoffs and 13 in 45 total games after the trade, Hagel showed that his true role with the Lightning is as a middle-six winger, not the scorer that he was in Chicago.
Four years after the Lightning traded him away for Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller, Vladislav Namestnikov has made his return to Tampa Bay, just after McDonagh was traded to Nashville. He has been on five teams since that 2018 trade, where his scoring has fallen off. Namestnikov did score 16 goals with 30 points for Detroit and Dallas in 2021-22. Ross Colton was the team’s Swiss Army knife last season, playing all over the lineup. That didn’t deter his scoring, as Colton potted 22 goals in his first full NHL season. After dominating in the AHL once again, Alex Barre-Boulet once again sees himself without a clear role. For now, he could get a chance on the third line. Barre-Boulet had six points in 16 games for the Lightning and Kraken last year. He played in 58 AHL games, finishing with 63 points.
When Tampa Bay lost their third line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow in free agency last year, they replaced them by moving their younger players to the third line, and building a shutdown veteran fourth line. The center of that line was Pierre-Edouard Bellmare, the 37-year-old who tied his career-high in goals, with nine. Bellmare makes his living in his own end, or rather by not being in it too often. He was on the ice for just 1.18 goals against per 60 at even strength, leading the team. That was just ahead of lineman Patrick Maroon at 1.28. Easily the more physical player, Maroon scored 11 goals with 27 points, as well as 134 penalty minutes and 160 hits. The best thing for Tampa’s bottom-six was a rejuvenation season for Corey Perry. Sure, he didn’t score 50 goals like he did back in 2010-11, but Perry’s 19 goals were his most since 2016-17, and his 40 points were a lot more than anyone expected. Perry added 11 points in the playoffs, en route to his third consecutive Stanley Cup final loss. The forward depth options are thin, so the Lightning will have to reach deep into their AHL bag for potential contributors. The most likely name is Cole Koepke, a sixth-round pick back in 2018. While he has never played in the NHL, Koepke scored 20 goals in 69 AHL games this past season. Another option is Gemel Smith, who has four points in eight games for the Lightning over two seasons. He went to Detroit for a little bit before returning to the Syracuse Crunch and putting up eight points in 13 games.
While the analytics community didn’t love Victor Hedman in 2020-21, he still finished third in Norris voting. In 2021-22, every community was all over Hedman. Once again, he was third in Norris voting. Hedman scored 20 goals for the first time, and also set a new career-high in points, with 85. His 65 assists alone would have been the second most points of his career. Hedman’s normal partner, Jan Rutta, signed with Pittsburgh. Zach Bogosian will also be out until November at the earliest. That provides a fantastic opportunity for Cal Foote to step in and earn his stay in the NHL. Foote averaged just over 13 minutes a night in the 56 games he played in, recording nine points.
The pairing of Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev both signed eight-year extensions in the offseason, locking in a potential second pair for the next nine seasons. Cernak had 13 points in 55 games, with 165 hits. He added 84 more checks in 23 playoff games. Sergachev had 38 points, his most since 2017-18, when he was just 19. In each season since, he has taken on a bigger ice time share and a more physical role. Sergachev was the only Lightning player with triple digit hits and blocked shots in the regular season alone.
Filling in the void left by McDonagh’s departure will be Ian Cole, who had 104 blocks and 110 hits for Carolina last year. The Lightning are set to be the veteran’s seventh NHL team, and that doesn’t include when he was traded to Ottawa for a few days in the middle of the 2017-18 season. The return for McDonagh included Philippe Myers, a six-foot-five defender who was highly touted when coming up with Philadelphia, but was waived last season by the Predators. In 27 games, he had four points. Another highly touted player at one point was Haydn Fleury, the seventh-overall pick in the 2014 draft. Fleury was selected in the expansion draft last offseason, but only played in 36 games for the Kraken.
Andrei Vasilevskiy’s season was almost disappointing, as his fifth place Vezina voting finish was his worst since 2016-17, his first year as a starter. Leading the league in wins for the fifth year in a row, Vasilevskiy posted a .916 save percentage and a 2.49 GAA. He was fourth in goals saved above expected. Tampa Bay even got average results out of Brian Elliott, who looked lost in his last few seasons with the Flyers. Only playing in 19 games, Elliott had a .912 save percentage with a 2.43 GAA.
Steven Stamkos – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Nick Paul – Brandon Hagel
Vladislav Namestnikov – Ross Colton – Alex Barre-Boulet
Patrick Maroon – Pierre-Edouard Bellmare – Corey Perry
Scratched: Cole Koepke, Gemel Smith
Victor Hedman – Cal Foote
Mikhail Sergachev – Erik Cernak
Ian Cole – Philippe Myers
Scratched: Haydn Fleury