Our Tampa Bay Lightning 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
The Tampa Bay Lightning have spent the better part of the past decade near the top of their division and highly competitive, even going so far as reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2014-15. But they were never able to win it all. Until 2020. The Lightning won their second Stanley Cup by defeating the Dallas Stars in 6 games.
The secret to what finally put them over the top? Patrick Maroon, obviously. Signs a one-year deal with the St. Louis Blues for the 2018-19 season. They win the Cup. Signs a one-year deal with the Lightning for the 2019-20 season. They win the Cup. Now that Maroon has signed in Tampa for two more seasons, does this mean the Lightning are going to three-peat? History would suggest the answer to this question is yes.
For the most part, this is a perfectly reasonable prediction. Tampa Bay’s roster has been changed a bit more than they’d probably like. They’ve lost Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian, Brayden Coburn, Cedric Paquette, and Carter Verhaege, while Nikita Kucherov will be missing the entire regular season due to injury. Losing Kucherov’s offense will hurt big time. But, their roster still contains a couple of the best forwards in the league (Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos), one of the best defenders (Victor Hedman), and one of the best goalies in the league (Andrei Vasilevskiy). Tampa Bay is also in a division where the toughest competition is from Dallas and the only other teams that might pose a threat are Carolina and Columbus, giving them an easy path through the playoffs for another deep run.
Cap space is a pressing issue for this team. Nikita Kucherov being on LTIR for the season makes it easier to get through 2020-21. The team has made their cap dump trade to allow them to make the NHL’s $81.5 million upper limit for the season. With Nikita Kucherov on LTIR already, Braydon Coburn and Cedric Paquette were sent to Ottawa for Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson, both of whom are already on the LTIR. The $15.816 million the Lightning have on LTIR will get them into a playable cap situation for the time being.
It is unusual for NHL coaches to last more than three or four years with any team lately. In fact, only 6 have currently achieved that. Jon Cooper is one of them and is the longest tenured coach in the league with his current team, having been behind Tampa Bay’s bench since March 25, 2013. This upcoming year will mark his eighth full season as head coach and now that he has finally gotten this team to a Stanley Cup victory, has probably given himself a cooler seat for a couple more seasons.
Tampa Bay Lightning Roster Overview
When healthy, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point combine to make one of the greatest lines in the league. But that line is a bit up in the air to start the 2020-21 season, as it is confirmed Nikita Kucherov is nursing an injury and will be spending the year on LTIR. Now, this could buy some time to get a fix to the cap situation, as the team freed up some money to sign Cirelli, but I’m sure the Lightning would prefer to have Kucherov in the lineup. Ondrej Palat also spent a lot of time with this line, and he will likely have first dibs on filling in for Kucherov.
Anthony Cirelli centres the second line and is joined by Alex Killorn and a rotating cast of other wingers. Anyone ranging from Stamkos to Mathieu Joseph spent a decent amount of time on that line. Cirelli and Killorn are both great second line producers, sitting in the 40-50 point range, and they have the added bonus of being able to take on top defensive matchups with Cirelli having excellent defensive skills and instincts.
Tampa Bay’s got a new look third line with Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman joining the team at the previous trade deadline. Both of these players are solid two-way guys who play active, aggressive games, and Coleman at least is good for around 30 points. These two, as well as Patrick Maroon, are the types of players the Lightning were missing and helped to push the team over the top.
Yanni Gourde has had massive regression offensively over the last three seasons, with point totals of 64, 48, then 30. He’s been passed in the depth chart for now, but could be bumped up if Cirelli holds out. Either way, Tampa Bay will want to see more offensively from Gourde in the absence of Nikita Kucherov.
Mitchell Stephens, Mathieu Joseph, Patrick Maroon, and Alexander Volkov round out the likely candidates for the remaining forward spots. With the taxi squad going on for ‘expanded’ rosters, we may even see some of the Lightning’s prospects in the roster, like Boris Katchouk, Alex Barre-Boulet, or Taylor Raddysh. Barre-Boulet, being the more highly touted centre prospect in the organization, could see some time in the NHL early this season with Cedric Paquette (also a centre) leaving via trade.
The defense has undergone a bit of a shake-up year to year. Hedman and Sergachev have lost their one of their most frequent linemates in Kevin Shattenkirk. Ryan McDonagh spent the most time with Erik Cernak last season, though with Hedman having an open spot on his pairing Cernak may get the nod for more ice time. Or, it could be a chance for Mikhail Sergachev to hop onto the top pairing for more ice time. With Braydon Coburn being traded away, Luke Schenn now anchors the bottom pairing. One of Jan Rutta or Erik Cernak, whoever is not with Hedman, can fit in here. There are opportunities here for prospects, like Cal Foote, to crack the lineup this season with no clear 7th or 8th defender on the NHL roster.
Overall, the Lightning have a very dynamic defensive group that swap pairings quite often and I would expect that trend to continue next season as they figure out new combinations.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has an argument for being the best goalie in the NHL. His athleticism, his consistency, and his ability to step up in big games have led to him being a Vezina finalist in each of the last 3 seasons, winning his first Vezina Trophy in 2018-19. He is undoubtedly the team’s starter. Vasilevskiy typically plays 50-55 games in a normal season, so in the 56 game condensed schedule, the workload may be split with Curtis McElhinney to keep both energized and healthy for another Cup run.
McElhinney is a journeyman backup at this point, having played for 8 teams in his 12 NHL seasons, and over the last few years he has been regarded as one of the league’s better and more reliable backups. 2019-20 was a bit of an off year for Curtis, and with the potential for picking up a heavier workload (in terms of playing frequency, not necessarily games played), the Lightning will want a bit more from him this upcoming year.
Tampa Bay Lightning 2020-21 Prediction
1st – 2nd Central Division
The Tampa Bay Lightning benefitted greatly from the divisional alignment for this season. Their only major competitor seems to be the Dallas Stars, and the rest of the division is a clear tier (or two) below. The Lightning should feast in this division and easily clinch a top spot.
That concludes our Tampa Bay Lightning 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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