The Tampa Bay Lightning went 8-1-1 for their last 10 games last season, but it wasn’t enough to make the post-season. There were reasons for the shortfall, like the injury to Steven Stamkos that kept him out of action after just 17 games. Ryan Callahan was out of action as well. He was limited to just 18 games and has had two hip surgeries in the past 14 months.
The good news is that Stamkos should be ready to go come training camp and Callahan says he’s healthy.
The Lightning also used the off-season to snag defenceman Mikhail Sergachev in a trade that saw Jonathan Drouin head to Montreal. They also signed Dan Girardi to a two-year deal, lost Jason Garrison to Vegas and signed veteran Chris Kunitz to a one-year contract. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat were re-upped as restricted free agents.
Stamkos is a point-per-game player, basically. He’s been absent for large stretches of the past three seasons due to injury, but if he’s healthy he’ll be a dynamo once more. The 27-year-old had 20 points in 17 games last season, including nine goals and 11 assists, and is a franchise player through and through. If he gets a full season in, look out.
Nikita Kucherov will be one of the beneficiaries of a full season with Stamkos at centre. The 24-year-old winger popped in 40 goals last season for a total of 85 points in 74 regular season games. He scored 17 power play goals and finished third in points per game last season, just behind Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. With Stamkos healthy, Kucherov could take the scoring title. No, really.
With Drouin out, Palat takes over as the club’s top left winger. Last season, the 26-year-old was good for 52 points and spent most of his time with Drouin, Kucherov and Victor Hedman on the top power play unit. He had five power play goals and 15 power play points as a result. If he finds his way to a top line with Kucherov and Stamkos, he’ll be lethal.
Johnson could see his numbers decline with Stamkos back in the lineup, but he’s a solid second line centre and should chip in plenty of secondary scoring. The 27-year-old had 45 points in 66 games last season and played with Kucherov and Palat. He’ll shift focus a little in 2017-2018, but he’s still a vital part of the roster.
Hedman had a career-high 72 points in 79 games last season, including a career-high 16 goals and a career-high 56 assists. He scored a career-high four goals on the power play and posted a career-high 33 power play points. The 26-year-old is an elite blueliner and he’ll be back for more in 2017-2018.
Anton Stralman saw a dip in production last season, putting up just 22 points in 73 regular season games. He missed time with an upper body injury, but he still averaged 22:54 of ice time a game and posted 130 shots on goal. The 31-year-old is a slick skater and a top-tier puck-moving defenceman and he’ll find time on the power play once again.
New arrival Girardi produced 15 points for the New York Rangers last season and added two assists in a dozen playoff games. The 33-year-old from Welland bought into the Broadway system and will bring that style of play to Tampa. He’ll block shots and play hurt.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the clear starter for the Lightning. He went 12-4-2 after Ben Bishop was traded to Los Angeles in February of last season and he’s got the tools to lead the charge. The 23-year-old won 23 of 47 starts and posted a goals against average of 2.61 with a save percentage of .917. He’s a big guy, so he covers a lot of the net, and he’s got excellent lateral movement.
Peter Budaj is the backup in Tampa. The 34-year-old has done everything asked of him throughout his NHL career. Sometimes he’s played the role of starter, as in Los Angeles last season. He won 27 games in 51 starts after Jonathan Quick went down in the opener. The season prior, Budaj had one start and won it. For the Lightning, he’ll handle whatever comes next.