Vegas Golden Knights 2021-22 Season Preview

After another playoff disappointment, we all waited for the upcoming explosion of an offseason that the Golden Knights would have. Instead, it was a bit of a dud. They brought some guys back and made minor adds. Of course, Jack Eichel could still be on the table. But this Vegas team will be very similar to the one that Montreal just upset. Oh right, except for their Vezina winning goalie.

Offseason additions: F Evgenii Dadonov, F Nolan Patrick, F Brett Howden, G Laurent Brossoit.

Offseason subtractions: G Marc-Andre Fleury, F Ryan Reaves, F Tomas Nosek, F Cody Glass, D Nick Holden.

Forwards

Arguably the best defensive winger in hockey, Mark Stone is no slouch on offense, either. He scored 21 goals with 40 assists for 61 points in 55 games. The first captain in team history also finished third in Selke voting. He has been in the top-five for the award in each of the past three seasons. As Max Pacioretty has progressed into his 30s, his goal scoring ability has not gone anywhere. He scored 24 times with 27 assists in 48 games last season, leading the team in the former. Next to Stone, he was one of two Golden Knights to average over a point-per-game. The center depth is not great in Vegas, but Chandler Stephenson has found a home as their top line center. A great penalty killer, Stephenson scored a career-high 14 goals with 35 points in 51 games. In his 260 career games, Stephenson has sustained a 15.5 percent shooting percentage. For example, that is almost three percent more than his former teammate, Alex Ovechkin. Jonathan Marchessault put up another good season, as he scored 18 times with 44 points, finishing third on the team. While he was on an 82-game pace of 28 goals, this goes down as the first year since 2015-16 where Marchessault did not score twenty goals. After a career-high 27 goals in 2019-20, Reilly Smith fell down to 14, his lowest since 2014-15. His 25 points were also his lowest since he was with the Stars. Down the middle from the two former Panthers is William Karlsson, who has never come close to his insane first season in Vegas. He still scored a respectable 14 goals with 25 assists for 39 points in 56 games. Karlsson was the only Golden Knight to play in every single regular season contest. With goal scoring winger Alex Tuch out after shoulder surgery, the main scorer on the third line will be newcomer Evgenii Dadonov, who was Florida’s replacement for Marchessault and Smith following the expansion draft. He was a consistent scorer for three seasons with the team, but struggled after signing with the Senators. In one season for Ottawa, Dadonov scored just 13 goals with seven assists. Defensive winger Mattias Janmark returns after coming over at the trade deadline. He scored just once with four assists in the 15 regular season games, although he did make up for that with four goals in the postseason. The second overall pick in 2017, Nolan Patrick is now onto a new team as the Golden Knights scooped him up. He has been injured often in his young NHL career, but was still disappointing while mostly healthy last year. In 52 games, Patrick scored just nine points, four of which were goals. A product of the Erik Haula trade, Nicolas Roy became a regular for Vegas last season, with 15 points in 50 games. He averaged exactly one hit-per-game. Patrick and Roy are fighting for the third and fourth line center jobs. While he averaged just nine-and-a-half minutes a night over 44 games, Keegan Kolesar had 107 hits with 13 points. The 227 pound right-wing added 64 hits in the postseason. Speaking of hits, only Ryan Reaves had more on the team than William Carrier last season. The fourth liner had 131, with 15 points. He has played in 214 games for the Golden Knights over the past four seasons, but Carrier has averaged under ten minutes a game during them, with 2020-21 being his first season averaging more than that. A former first-round pick, Brett Howden was very, very bad in New York. In 42 games for the Rangers last year, he had just seven points while struggling on both ends of the ice. Howden is just 23, and has the chance to fix himself in Vegas. Peyton Krebs made his NHL debut last season, playing in four games while also having five points in five AHL games. In his final WHL season, Krebs scored 13 goals with 43 points in 24 games.

Defensemen

The Golden Knights have one of, if not the league’s top offensive defensemen in Shea Theodore. For the second consecutive season, Theodore finished sixth in Norris voting, as this year he had 42 points in 53 games. Of his 34 assists, 15 came on the power play. Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith get a lot of attention, but of the expansion draft acquisitions on the team, Theodore is the best. Veteran Alex Pietrangelo’s first year under a huge contract was underwhelming, as he did not receive a Norris vote a year after coming in fourth place. Pietrangelo was limited to 41 games, scoring seven times with 16 assists. The good news is that he carried his weight in the playoffs, with twelve points and a league-leading 76 shots. Shot-blocking superstar Alec Martinez had 168 of those in 2020-21, even though he only played in 53 games. Martinez coupled that with 32 points, his most since 2016-17. The best left-handed free agent defender returned to the Golden Knights on a three year deal with a $5.25 million AAV. Six-foot-six Nicolas Hague was productive in his first full season, with 17 points in 52 games. He imposed the physicality that you would expect from someone of his height, with 65 blocks and 94 hits. Veteran Brayden McNabb reached the 200 hit mark in each of his first three seasons with the team, but he had to settle for 98 last year. The defensive specialist also had eight points in 41 games. The Golden Knights balanced Zach Whitecloud between the AHL and NHL for two seasons after signing him out of Bemidji State, but he took on a full-time role last year. The 24-year-old Manitoban had 12 points in 51 games. Dylan Coghlan has showed off his goal scoring talent in the AHL, as he had 11 goals in 60 games in 2019-20. He spent all of last year with the big club, getting into 29 games as a rookie. A sixth-rounder back in 2018, Peter Diliberatore went right to the AHL out of Quinnipiac last season. He had 20 points in 29 collegiate games.

Goalies

With Marc-Andre Fleury abruptly disposed of, Robin Lehner will be a full-time starter really for the first time since his Buffalo days, as he split with Fleury in Vegas, Corey Crawford in Chicago, and Thomas Greiss with the Islanders. He only got into 19 games last year, but his .913 save percentage and 2.29 GAA were impressive. The new backup in town is Laurent Brossoit, who did not get much work playing that role behind Connor Hellebuyck for the past three seasons. In 14 outings, 11 of which were starts, he had a .918 save percentage with a 2.42 GAA.

Projected Lines

Max Pacioretty – Chandler Stephenson – Mark Stone

Jonathan Marchessault – William Karlsson – Reilly Smith

Mattias Janmark – Nicolas Roy – Evgenii Dadonov

William Carrier – Nolan Patrick – Keegan Kolesar

Extras: Brett Howden, Peyton Krebs

Shea Theodore – Alex Pietrangelo

Alec Martinez – Nicolas Hague

Brayden McNabb – Zach Whitecloud

Extras: Dylan Coghlan, Peter Diliberatore

Robin Lehner

Laurent Brossoit

Prediction

The Golden Knights being a good team is not the deciding factor on whether or not they will reach the playoffs. That factor is that the rest of the Pacific Division is awful. There’s the Oilers and… the Kraken? Flames? Canucks? If the Golden Knights were to somehow miss the playoffs, then that explosive offseason will happen. But, they will not be skipping the postseason, so don’t worry.

Vancouver Canucks 2021-22 Season Preview

A nightmarish 2020-21 season for the Canucks led straight into a crucial offseason. They experienced a massive COVID outbreak and also had arguably their two best players enter restricted free agency. They may not have been good last year, but the Canucks are still in salary cap hell. It did not help that they are now committed to a declining player until the end of time.

Offseason additions: F Conor Garland, D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, F Jason Dickinson, G Jaroslav Halak, D Tucker Poolman, D Luke Schenn, D Brad Hunt, F Phillip Di Giuseppe, F Alex Chiasson (PTO), F Juho Lammikko, D Noah Juulsen.

Offseason subtractions: D Nate Schmidt, D Alex Edler, G Braden Holtby, F Jay Beagle, F Antoine Roussel, F Jake Virtanen, D Olli Juolevi, F Loui Eriksson, F Jimmy Vesey, F Jonah Gadjovich, F Kole Lind.

Forwards

After a season where he was limited to just 26 games, Elias Pettersson received a three-year extension. The Swedish center has become one of the league’s best players at the position, and is the on-ice leader of this Canucks team. He scored 10 goals with 11 assists last year, on the back of a 27 goal, 66 point season in 68 games. In Pettersson’s absence, Brock Boeser led the team with 23 goals and 49 points. The sniper could easily score 30 goals, although he is actually yet to do that in a single season. He came close in his rookie year, scoring 29 times in 62 games. As expected, JT Miller did not continue on from his surprise point-per-game 2019-20. That is not to say that he was a bad player. He still had 46 points in 53 games, with 15 of them goals. He has that flexibility to center and play on the wing. For the first time since 2015-16, Bo Horvat missed out on 20 goals, although it is tough to criticize his 19 without missing a game in a shortened season. The captain had 39 points while winning 52.9 percent of his face-offs. Coming in from Arizona is Conor Garland, who the Canucks got right as he became the Coyotes’ best forward. He only scored 12 times in 49 games last year, but also had 27 assists for 39 points, which was third on the team. His shooting percentage was only 8.9 percent last season, which explains the low goal total. Former second-rounder Nils Hoglander was one of the league’s most underrated rookies last season, as he finished eighth in Calder voting without missing a game. The 20-year-old scored 13 times with 14 assists for 27 points. Drafted tenth overall in 2019, exactly 30 picks before Hoglander, Vasily Podkolzin posses a bunch of talent as he coming to the NHL. In 35 games for the KHL’s St. Petersburg, Podkolzin scored five goals with six assists. He kicked things up for the playoffs, scoring six times in 16 games. Tanner Pearson was a great find for the Canucks over the two prior seasons, scoring 30 goals in 88 games. But he was a completely different player last season, in a bad way. In 51 games, Pearson scored just ten times with eight assists. Shooting percentage is not the only thing to chalk it up to, as the difference between last year and his 21-goal 2019-20 was by less than four percent. Vancouver brought in Jason Dickinson from Dallas right before the expansion draft, as they had an available protection spot and the Stars did not. Dickinson is a very good defensive player, although his offense is more for the fourth line. He scored seven goals with eight assists in his final season with his old club. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, Tyler Motte only needed 24 games to get to 100 hits. He was not a total black hole offensively either, scoring six goals with three assists. He may be a bottom-six winger, but Motte averaged over 16 minutes on ice a night in the games that he did play in. Matthew Highmore was a depth forward without much substance for the Blackhawks, but he was pretty decent after coming over at the trade deadline. He scored three times in 18 games, which was a career-high on his own. Veteran Brandon Sutter returns for his 14th NHL season, with this being his seventh for Vancouver. He scored nine goals on 65 shots last year, blocking 28 shots. Journeyman Phillip Di Giuseppe played in 38 games for the Rangers last season, with eight points. He showed his physicality in limited ice time, finishing 78 checks. After scoring four goals in 44 games for Florida last season, Juho Lammikko is looking to establish himself with a new team.

Defensemen

Now signed long-term, Quinn Hughes is not in his final stage of development yet. While he has put up points, the 21-year-old’s defense was pretty rough last season. He did lead the team in assists, with 38 apples along with three goals in 56 games. Hughes allowed the most high danger chances per 60 among the team’s defenders. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is now a Canuck, as he has reached the age of 30 and has rapidly declined. Once a consistent 15-20 goals, 40-50 point defenseman, Ekman-Larsson scored just three times with 21 assists for Arizona last season. As he now has a $7.26 million cap hit until 2026-27, the pressure is on for Ekman-Larsson to retain his old self. Tyler Myers is the definition of a player who completely defies the eye-test. Myers had 21 points with 74 blocks and 61 hits in 55 games last year. He had a rough 43.22 xGF% last season. After Tucker Poolman struggled to stay as a third-pairing guy in Winnipeg, the Canucks gave him a four-year, $10 million contract. That is awful for a 28-year-old with just 120 career games. In 39 contests last season, Poolman had just an assist with 49 blocked shots and 69 hits. It was a shock to see him receive that much money in free agency. Former fourth round pick Jack Rathbone tore it up at Harvard, and last season was his first professionally. He had nine points, seven of which were assists, in eight AHL games. In an equal amount of NHL games, Rathbone had three points. Luke Schenn has been a solid fill-in player for the Lightning over their last two Stanley Cup runs. He had four points in 38 games with 99 hits. Schenn returns to the Canucks, who he played in 18 games for at the end of 2018-19. Veteran Travis Hamonic should be with the team at some point, although he is away from the team with personal matters for the reason. Hamonic had ten points in 38 games last year. Brad Hunt was a good power play guy for the Wild in 2019-20, but he was mostly on the bench last season, playing in just 12 games. Ten of his 19 points from the season prior were on the man advantage. Former first rounder Noah Juulsen comes in right after a trade with Florida.

Goalies

The Canucks officially have their goaltender of the future, as Thatcher Demko signed a five-year extension worth $25 million during the season. The 25-year-old had a .915 save percentage and an 8.2 GSAA in 35 games last year. Braden Holtby could not carry the load last year, but the hope is that Jaroslav Halak can. He had a .905 save percentage in 19 outings last season. Halak was a great backup in 2019-20, with a .919 percentage and a 2.39 GAA.

Projected Lines

JT Miller – Elias Pettersson – Brock Boeser

Nils Hoglander – Bo Horvat – Conor Garland

Tanner Pearson – Jason Dickinson – Vasily Podkolzin

Tyler Motte – Brandon Sutter – Matthew Highmore

Extras: Phillip Di Giuseppe, Juho Lammikko

Quinn Hughes – Tyler Myers

Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Tucker Poolman

Jack Rathbone – Luke Schenn

Extras: Noah Juulsen, Brad Hunt

Thatcher Demko

Jaroslav Halak

Prediction

The Canucks are not a very good team. Their depth and defense is a major issue. However, the Pacific Division is very weak. It may be my hottest take of the season, but I can see this team making the postseason in the third spot.

NHL Trade Review: Panthers Acquire Juolevi

The Florida Panthers have acquired defenseman Olli Juolevi from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for forward Juho Lammikko and defender Noah Juulsen.

The Canucks were criticized immediately for selecting Juolevi fifth overall in 2016 over the guy who went next, Matthew Tkachuk. Juolevi has been incredibly disappointing in his NHL career, although he has never been given consistent playing time. He made his NHL debut in the bubble last year, and his regular season debut this year, spending all season with the NHL team. However, Juolevi only played in about half of the team’s games. He is still young and has talent, so there is a reason for the Panthers to take a flyer on him. Florida was able to unearth talent in Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Bennett, and Brandon Montour last season. They hope that Juolevi can be next.

Juolevi, 23, scored two goals with an assist, as well as 30 blocked shots and 23 hits in 23 games for Vancouver last season. In 2019-20 for the AHL’s Utica Comets, Juolevi scored twice with 23 assists for 25 points in 45 games.

For the sole purpose of making the team better at this moment, the Canucks accomplish that goal. They were not planning on using Juolevi, and they need forward depth. Lammikko was a third round pick back in 2014 who for years in the AHL, then Finland, then Russia. He found a role as a bottom-six wing for the Panthers over the last two seasons, although he did not exactly light it up. Juulsen is a former first-rounder himself. The Panthers claimed him off waivers a season ago. He played less than Juolevi last year and has less upside, but Juulsen can take the same spot on the depth chart.

Lammikko, 25, scored four goals with an assist in 44 games for the Panthers last season. In his NHL career, all for Florida, he has scored four goals with seven assists for 11 points in 84 games.

Juulsen, 24, had no points in four NHL games and an assist in five AHL games last season. In his NHL career for the Panthers and Montreal Canadiens Juulsen has scored two goals with six assists for eight points in 48 games.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2021-22 Season Preview

The Maple Leafs blew it again because of course they did. With a 3-1 series lead against the wildly inferior Canadiens, Toronto should have punched their ticket to the second round for the first time since 2004. Aaaannd Montreal won three straight. Toronto’s two main stars just did not show up. The Leafs did not have a total blow-up, which is generally smart. They brought in a bunch of low risk, high reward players to help them turn around. Will it work?

Offseason additions: G Petr Mrazek, F Nick Ritchie, F Ondrej Kase, F David Kampf, F Michael Bunting, F Josh Ho-Sang.

Offseason subtractions: F Zach Hyman, G Frederik Andersen, F Nick Foligno, F Joe Thornton, F Alex Galchenyuk, D Zach Bogosian, D Ben Hutton, G David Rittich.

Forwards

Playing on an injured wrist all season, Auston Matthews was absolutely incredible. He played in 52 games, and scored 41 goals, winning his first Rocket Richard. Matthews was also a finalist for the Hart and Lady Byng. His career minimum goal total is 34, and that came over 62 games when he was 20-years-old. He scored just once in the seven playoff games, which does null a bit of his credibility with the fanbase. But Matthews is a stud. The same could be said for Mitch Marner, who had four assists and took two penalties while averaging almost 25 minutes per game. The very talented winger had 67 points, 47 of them helpers, over 55 games. He is not afraid to block a shot, and is a very underrated player defensively. The excellence of Matthews and Marner started to overshadow John Tavares last year, who put up another stellar campaign. He had 50 points while winning 55.3 percent of face-offs. Tavares did not miss a regular season game, but unfortunately was out after a gruesome injury in game one of round one. The ire of the Toronto fanbase, William Nylander has played well enough to get that title off his back. He scored 17 goals with 25 assists over 51 contests, while being the one guy to really show up in the playoffs, which earned him some fan points. There, Nylander scored five times with three assists. The real debate in Toronto camp is about who will play on the top line alongside Matthews and Marner. Nick Ritchie has the grit factor that a lot of traditional fans would like. The 230 pound 25-year-old scored a career-high 15 goals last season, while completing 102 hits. He even has that “disappear in the playoffs” function, scoring just once in 11 games. Michael Bunting is a much more interesting option. The 26-year-old earned a call-up to the Coyotes after scoring seven times with 12 assists in 16 AHL games. He rode a 26.3 percent shooting rate to ten goals over 21 games. He was good, but his results are unsustainable. In his first full season with the team, Ilya Mikheyev was disappointing. He scored just seven times with ten assists in 54 games. Mikheyev may be the only left wing on the team with a set spot entering the season. The Leafs traded for Jared McCann, just to lose him in the expansion draft the next day. The purpose of this was to protect everyone else on the team, most notably Alex Kerfoot. He scored 34 goals over his first two NHL seasons with Colorado, but he has just half of that in an equal amount of seasons for Toronto. Kerfoot’s eight goals and 23 points in 2020-21 were a career low, although the shortened season played a big role in that. He has the flexibility to play the wing and center, although his 40.8 percent face-off rate from last year is ugly. Ondrej Kase has a ton of potential, but concussions have derailed his entire career. He missed all but three games for Boston last year. The season before, he scored seven goals with 17 assist in 55 games. That itself is a solid pace. If he can stay healthy, Kase is a good third-line weapon. Jason Spezza really wants a Stanley Cup, and he believes that he can get one with the Maple Leafs. Ignoring the sad reality of that, Spezza was great last season, prompting him to return. He scored ten times with twenty assists in 54 games while playing a solid two-way game. He received a Byng vote, taking just three minor penalties all season. The Leafs hoped that Wayne Simmonds could re-ignite his scoring prowess, and he did for a bit, finding the back of the net five times in the first month of the season. Unfortunately, he would miss time due to injury, and add just two more goals the rest of the way. Simmonds had nine points with 45 penalty minutes in 38 games. Pierre Engvall was limited to 42 games last year, and he scored at a decent rate, with seven goals and five assists. That is a pace of 14 goals a season, which you would take from a bottom-six winger. The next step for the six-foot-five winger is cementing himself as an everyday player. The Leafs have two big wild cards in camp this year. Despite playing in every game for Chicago last year, David Kampf only scored one goal. He is a good defensive player, meaning that he could be Toronto’s third line center for game one. The ultra-talented Josh Ho-Sang has not played in an NHL game since 2018-19, but he has been great in the preseason. In 53 games for the Islanders in his career, the now 25-year-old has scored seven goals with 17 assists.

Defensemen

For the first time during their playoff window, the defense is a strength for the Maple Leafs. Morgan Rielly is the best offensively of the bunch, although his defense is questionable at times. In his eighth season for the team, Rielly scored 35 points, with 12 of them coming on the power play. Toronto found the perfect partner for him in TJ Brodie, who is the steady, top-pairing guy that the Maple Leafs desperately needed. The Ontario kid only scored once in the regular season, but matched that in the playoffs. He blocked 84 shots without missing a game. Veteran Jake Muzzin may not be on the technical top-pairing, but he is very much a top-two defender for most teams. He had 27 points with 94 blocked shots and 101 hits in 53 games last year. In every season since 2014-15, Muzzin has averaged over 21 minutes on ice a night. There was a fair amount of buzz over Toronto’s decision to protect Justin Holl as the fourth defenseman in the expansion draft. The undrafted, six-foot-four Minnesotan had a career high 20 points in 55 games in 2020-21, blocking 84 shots with 82 hits. After the crazy market for defensemen that followed the expansion draft, Kyle Dubas and co. must be happy with keeping Holl and his $2 million cap hit for the next two seasons. Travis Dermott has always been someone who played a lot for the team, but was clearly never trusted. He missed just five regular season games last year, and despite playing in his fourth NHL season, averaged just 13 minutes and 13 seconds of ice time a game. He had a career low six points last season. The team even trusts 21-year-old Rasmus Sandin more, as he averaged more ice time in just nine games last season. Sandin had four assists in those games. The very talented defender scored his second career goal versus Montreal in the postseason. Former top pick Timothy Liljegren is yet to make a major impact on the Leafs’ organization. He played in 23 games last year, but just two of which were in the NHL. Over the rest, he scored twice with nine assists in 21 games.

Goalies

The Maple Leafs have their new goaltender. Jack Campbell was dominant as he took the starting job right from Frederik Andersen. The late bloomer had a .921 save percentage with a 2.15 GAA over 22 starts for Toronto, winning 17 of them. Carey Price’s insane playoffs overshadowed Campbell, who had a .934 SV% and a 1.81 GAA. The veteran backup for him is Petr Mrazek who comes from the Hurricanes, who just signed Andersen. Mrazek lost the starting job last year to Alex Nedeljkovic. He was limited to 12 games, and was very good, with a .923 save percentage and a 2.06 GAA. The Leafs have a competent third goalie in Michael Hutchinson, who had a .919 save percentage in eight games last season.

Projected Lines

Nick Ritchie – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner

Ilya Mikheyev – John Tavares – William Nylander

Michael Bunting – Alex Kerfoot – Ondrej Kase

Pierre Engvall – Jason Spezza – Wayne Simmonds

Extras: David Kampf, Josh Ho-Sang

Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie

Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl

Rasmus Sandin – Travis Dermott

Extras: Timothy Liljegren

Jack Campbell

Petr Mrazek

Extras: Michael Hutchinson

Projection

It has been said before, but the Leafs’ lack of depth is going to hurt them this year. Their solution to that was to bring in some low risk, high reward players. However, when you give those guys high ranking, it becomes a high risk. If that doesn’t pan out, then this team could be in trouble. Still, they have the star power to work things out. This is still a third place team.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2021-22 Season Preview

The Lightning completely established their dominance once again in 2021, as they won their second consecutive Stanley Cup. This time, there was a ton of controversy, as they were excessively over the salary cap. They couldn’t stay in that position forever, and the impact is showing. Their entire third line is gone. The bottom-six is much, much weaker. Can the Lightning still hold up enough to win a third Cup?

Offseason additions: F Corey Perry, G Brian Elliott, D Zach Bogosian, F Pierre-Edouard Bellmare.

Offseason subtractions: F Yanni Gourde, F Blake Coleman, D David Savard, F Barclay Goodrow, F Tyler Johnson, D Luke Schenn, F Mitchell Stephens, G Curtis McElhinney.

Forwards

Tampa has their new franchise center locked up, as Brayden Point’s eight year extension kicks off after this upcoming season. Point scored 23 goals with 48 points in 56 games. While that is a worse pace than his previous two seasons, Point still led the team in both categories. Point led the postseason in goals for the second consecutive season, scoring 14 times with nine assists in 23 games. Half of those goals came on the power play. Nikita Kucherov was electric in the regulll oh right he missed all of it. Kucherov did not lose a step when he returned in the playoffs, scoring eight times with 24 assists. For the second year in a row, Point was the goal scorer, while Kucherov was the playoff point leader. This season, he had 32. The most obvious third wheel in history is Ondrej Palat, who is a decent player but can not compare to the other first line members. Palat actually had one of his best NHL seasons with Kucherov out, scoring 15 times with 31 assists in 55 games. In his regular season career, Palat has 18.6 G/82. In the playoffs? 26.4. Because didn’t earn the Cup in 2020, captain Steven Stamkos just won another. Injuries are starting to real his career, but Stamkos is still an elite scorer as he passes age 30. He played in 38 games in the regular season, scoring 17 times with an equal amount of assists. He had 18 points, eight of them goals, in the postseason. For the most part, he has moved closer to the wing than center, thanks to the continued emergence of Anthony Cirelli. A very good two-way player, his numbers were disappointing last year. He scored just nine goals with 13 assists in 50 games. He got lost in the mix as well in the playoffs, scoring five times in 23 games. Cirelli actually had more hits in the playoffs than in more than double of the amount of games in the regular season. Gritty Alex Killorn had a career season at age 30 in 2019-20, but fell back to his normal numbers after leading the league in shooting percentage. Killorn scored 15 times with 33 points in 56 games, which is around his average rate. Former fourth rounder Ross Colton came out of nowhere to be the team’s fourth line center, scoring nine times in 30 games. He supplemented that with 46 hits and a Cup-clinching goal in the playoffs. Mathieu Joseph played in every single regular season game, then appeared in just six during the postseason run. He was a good player in limited ice-time, with 12 goals and 82 hits. Although he did have a shooting percentage of 20.3 percent, Joseph is still a good scorer. After years of dominating in the AHL, Alex Barre-Boulet finally got his crack at the NHL, scoring three times in 15 contests. In the 10 games that he did play for the Syracuse Crunch, he scored a ridiculous ten times with four assists. This should be the season where he breaks through. Looking to make it four Cups in a row is Pat Maroon. His 60 penalty minutes led the team in the regular season, while he also had 18 points and 75 hits. He did not exactly play a key role in the postseason, but Maroon still appeared in every game and racked up 37 penalty minutes. According to Corey Perry, If you can’t beat ’em, go somewhere else. If you can’t beat ’em then, join ’em. After falling to Tampa Bay as a member of the Stars and the Canadiens in back to back seasons, Perry is now a bolt. The former Hart winner is now reduced to a scrappy winger, although his nine goals and 21 points in 49 games last year were productive. He added ten more points in the playoffs. Penalty killing specialist Pierre-Edouard Bellmare is here to help the Lightning defensively. He spent the last two seasons with the Avalanche, scoring nine goals in each year, setting a new career high. Bellmare won 60.7 percent of his draws in 2020-21. Gemel Smith had three assists in five NHL games last year. In three AHL games, the former Star averaged a goal and an assist a game. Former Canadien Charles Hudon was often blocked in Montreal, but he can earn a spot in Tampa Bay. He played in Switzerland last season, scoring 15 goals with 17 assists for 32 points in 33 games.

Defensemen

Victor Hedman was clearly hurt all season, and despite not totally earning it, he finished third in Norris voting for the third consecutive year. Hedman passed the points test, with 45 in 54 games. However, he was just average compared to his teammates, with a 51.3 xGF% and a 50 GF%. Former Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh survived the expansion draft after arrangements were made to protect him. McDonagh blocked 96 shots in 50 regular season games, then added 46 more in the postseason. Erik Cernak’s 56.2 xGF% led returning Tampa Bay defensemen last year, with only Luke Schenn beating him. The big right-hander had 18 points with 98 hits in 46 games. In 171 career games, Cernak has amassed 468 hits, or about 2.7 a game. Mikhail Sergachev’s 2.4 xGF/60 was the highest among Tampa Bay defenders. He played in all 56 games, with eight of his 30 points coming on the man advantage. The smoove defender defeated his old team in the finals. Jan Rutta secured the pretty good job of becoming Hedman’s partner. He didn’t miss a playoff game, although sat out 21 in the regular season. The Czech native had eight assists in 35 games in his third season with the franchise. Zach Bogosian won the Cup with the Lightning in 2020, joined the Leafs last year, and is now back with Tampa Bay. He played in 45 games for Toronto last year, with 31 blocked shots and 67 hits. He had 44 hits in 20 games for the Lightning in the playoffs two seasons ago. Cal Foote played in 35 games in his rookie season, with three points and 29 penalty minutes. Tampa Bay would not let the 22-year-old Denver native average over 13 minutes a night, and he was not a postseason factor at all.

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy didn’t even need a backup last year. With Curtis McElhinney struggling in his few games played, Vasilevskiy finished second in Vezina voting, and won the Conn Smythe. He has been a Vezina finalist in four consecutive seasons, leading the league in wins in each of them. His .925 save percentage tied a career high last year, while his 2.21 GAA was the best of his seven years in the league. The veteran netminder who will assist Vasilevskiy this year is Brian Elliott, who joins his sixth team. Elliott appeared in 30 games for the Flyers last year, and was not good at all. He had a percentage of .889 with a 3.06 GAA, plus a -14.0 GSAA. The Lightning will need better results, although Elliott will play a lot less than he did a season ago.

Projected Lines

Ondrej Palat – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Steven Stamkos

Alex Barre-Boulet – Ross Colton – Mathieu Joseph

Pat Maroon – Pierre-Edouard Bellmare – Corey Perry

Extras: Gemel Smith, Charles Hudon

Victor Hedman – Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh – Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev – Zach Bogosian

Extras: Cal Foote

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Brian Elliott

Prediction

Hmmmm…. should the back-to-back champions make the playoffs. While their bottom-six was depleted last year, they still have their solid core. The Lightning are stacked. It’s fair to say that anything less than a division title would be disappointing. Then again, they only got third place last year, and look how that