The Tampa Bay Lightning polished off the 2015-2016 NHL season with a 46-31-5 record, good for second place in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning finished six points behind the division-leading Florida Panthers and four points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins. Tampa made a considerable playoff push but were held out of a Stanley Cup Final berth by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated them in seven games.
Without question, the story of the summer revolved around the future of Lightning centre Steven Stamkos. The superstar was set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 of 2016 and multiple teams were in the running for his services, but general manager Steve Yzerman signed the 26-year-old to an eight-year deal.
Tampa also signed Victor Hedman to an eight-year deal and locked up forward Alex Killorn with a seven-year contract. Defenceman Matt Carle left via free agency, as did blueliner Anthony DeAngelo, while wingers Jeremy Morin and Cory Conacher are among the new faces.
Stamkos has led the Lightning in goals for six of the last seven seasons. Last season, he put up 64 points in 77 games. He averaged 19:45 of ice time a game, managed 216 shots on goal and scored 14 of his 36 goals on the power play. Injuries became an issue and he was held out of all but 11:55 of playoff time, so he has unfinished business in 2016-2017 and should be a more dangerous play with a full contract.
23-year-old winger Nikita Kucherov scored 30 goals and added 36 assists last season. He averaged 18:12 of ice time a game and registered 209 shots on goal, with nine power play goals. In the post-season, he lit it up with 19 points in 17 games. He averaged 20:08 a game in the playoffs and was a force with 51 shots on goal.
Czech winger Ondrej Palat had 40 points in 62 games, with an average of 17:55 of ice time per contest. He had 10 points in 17 playoff games and averaged 19:28 of ice time a game. The 25-year-old gives the Lightning a quality playmaker on the wing and a two-way option. The knock on Palat is in the size department, plus he could stand to shoot the puck a little more.
Halifax’s Killorn had 40 points in 81 games and averaged 16:47 of ice time a game. He saw a serious jump in production in the post-season, scoring 13 points in 17 games and averaging over 18 minutes of ice time a game. Jonathan Drouin is out of the doghouse and that’ll result in more playing time, as he produced big time in the playoffs with 14 points in 17 games. The 21-year-old is ready to break out.
Hedman is capable of doing it all for Tampa. He had 47 points in 78 games last season. He averaged 23:03 of ice time a game and registered 180 shots on goal. In the post-season, the 25-year-old managed 14 points in 17 games and averaged 27:26 of ice time a game. He’s a big defenceman at 6’6, 223 pounds, but he moves like the wind and can play a shutdown game when he needs to.
Swedish defenceman Anton Stralman had 34 points in 73 games and averaged 22:04 of ice time a game. He plays a smooth brand of hockey and boasts a hard point shot that creates options on the power play. His season was hampered by injury and he only saw time in six playoff games, where he scored a goal and averaged 20:13 of ice time a game.
Jason Garrison has the big left-handed shot for the power play and he’s found life with the Lightning because of it. The 31-year-old had 11 points in 72 games last season and put together seven points in 17 playoff games. He plays a steady style of defence and mostly stays out of trouble in his own end. Andrej Sustr is a nice option at 6’7, 220 pounds. The giant skates and passes well, plus he has a long reach.
Ben Bishop. It’s all about Ben Bishop. The 29-year-old has been a Vezina finalist in two of the past three seasons and has won at least 35 games in three straight seasons. He went 35-21-4 last season, with six shutouts and a 2.06 goals against average. In the post-season, he was 8-2 with a 1.85 goals against average. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Tampa seems to believe that Andrei Vasilevskiy is the starter of the future and they signed him to a three-year contract extension this past summer. The 22-year-old will probably see significant time this season. He was 11-10-0 last year with a .910 save percentage and a 2.76 goals against average. He was 3-4 in the playoffs with a .925 save percentage.
Tampa has a decent crop in the prospect pool, with considerable depth in goal and a good group of physical defencemen. Latvia’s Kristers Gudlevskis saw one start last season and allowed one goal on 32 shots. He is a large, lanky netminder and he’s athletic in the position, but consistency is an issue thus far. Gudlevskis is also used to playing with Vasilevskiy, as the two formed a solid tandem in Syracuse.
Defenceman Slater Koekkoek picked up some experience last season, with 10 post-season games under his belt. The 22-year-old is a terrific skater with a big shot, but he does have some defensive zone coverage issues that need to be addressed.
The Path Ahead
The roster is largely the same for Tampa and that gives them more than enough to work with in all three zones. The Lightning are an explosive, competitive hockey team and they should push far in the post-season if their stars can remain healthy.