The Tampa Bay Lightning are firing on all cylinders ahead of All-Star weekend and that could mean a revival of all those “I told you so” pre-season predictions.
Way back in October, Tampa was the heavy favourite to win the Stanley Cup and run the table. But October wasn’t kind and those predictions started to fall by the wayside. November was better, but it took some time before the club was able to assert themselves as a top tier contender once more.
Since December 21, Tampa’s been eating up the NHL with a 12-3-0 record – the best in the league with a .800 points percentage.
Perhaps the most emphatic statement of the Lightning’s supremacy came at the expense of the Winnipeg Jets last Friday. Tampa pulled off a 7-1 win ahead of their break, with Anthony Cirelli scoring a hat trick and Nikita Kucherov scoring twice.
That puts the Lightning in an interesting position with the trade deadline approaching, as they hardly want to mess with a successful formula.
Unfortunately, that successful formula wasn’t so successful last post-season and Tampa looked awful in the playoffs as they failed to scrape together a single win. They obviously don’t need a repeat, which could put GM Julien BriseBois to work.
But making a move for the sake of it doesn’t seem wise, which leaves open the question of need. As in, what does Tampa need?
The Lightning are top-loaded with one of the best offences in the NHL and goaltending is steady with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney proving a solid tandem. Even the D is tight, so finding a flaw in the roster is tough.
Tampa is also sitting pretty when it comes to contracts, with most of their key players wrapped up tight. Only Pat Maroon is an unrestricted free agent among forwards, while Cirelli and Carter Verhaeghe are due to hit restricted free agency. Defenceman Mikhail Sergachev needs a deal.
BriseBois is a student of trade deadline moves, having referenced his own personal study of the last 10. You have to think he’s got that in mind, which means a sensational deal is pretty far from the realm of possibilities this deadline. That doesn’t mean Tampa won’t make a move, but I wouldn’t bet it.
Right now, the best plan is to push forward and adhere to business as usual. The Lightning are rolling, well-organized and potent. There’s no reason, at least right now, to upset the proverbial apple cart.
Photo credit: NHL.com