Our Tampa Bay Lightning 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
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Back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions. The Tampa Bay Lightning had compiled one of, if not the, best roster in the NHL over the last decade. Its star power at every position, depth for days, and dominating style of play were second to none in the league. Despite some cap shenanigans, they still drafted incredibly well for years, made shrewd moves bringing players in, retained their talent at a discount on a regular basis, and built up an amazing team more than capable of winning it all.
The Lightning weren’t overly dominating through the regular season, finishing tied for 8th in league standings with 75 points. This was a common trend in their performance as Tampa Bay was around 5th-10th in many team oriented categories, with an exception being their 4th ranked penalty kill. They did all of this with Nikita Kucherov injured for every regular season game.
Individually, Andrei Vasilevskiy was his usual elite self, finishing with a 2.21 GAA, .925 SV%, and 21.0 GSAA. His performance was good for 8th in Hart Trophy voting and 2nd in Vezina voting. Victor Hedman, playing 25 minutes per game, finished 3rd in team scoring with 45 points in 54 games and 3rd in Norris Trophy voting as well.
This past offseason was a tricky one for the Lightning. They lost a fair amount of the forward depth that they had accumulated and which had helped them greatly to winning their Cups. Yanni Gourde got selected in the expansion draft, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow left in free agency. These moves have left a few big holes to fill in the middle-six forwards.
Aside from signing a couple of veterans like Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to help mitigate these losses a bit, the Lightning have a few players waiting in the wings to take on bigger roles. This season will be the chance for Mathieu Joseph, Ross Colton, and Alex Barre-Boulet to solidify roster spots and get some time in the top 6 playing with guys like Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov.
Tampa Bay has enough star power and depth in other positions that losing the equivalent of their entire third line might not impact the overall performance too much. But before the Lightning made it into contender status, that same depth (and the type of players in those depth positions) was the main concern people viewed as holding them back.
All things considered, do the Lightning have what it takes to be the first three-peat in the NHL since the Islanders’ dynasty in the early 80’s? Considering the team still has Patrick Maroon on the roster (who is now at three consecutive Cups himself), I think they have what it takes. Especially if Nikita Kucherov is in the lineup. But until their forward depth shows that they can contribute, the Lightning might be in tough in the Atlantic Division with Florida, Toronto, and Boston all ready to dethrone the champions.
Tampa Bay Lightning Roster Additions
Brent Seabrook’s Contract
Tampa Bay Lightning Roster Subtractions
Tampa Bay Lightning Roster Overview
Up front, the Lightning are likely to roll with a top line of Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov. Point and Palat played together a lot last season and it worked. The duo led the team in scoring (Point with 48 points, Palat with 46). Kucherov joined this line for the majority of the playoffs with great success so it should continue that way into the regular season. To be able to (re)add another player capable of putting up 100 points is a huge addition to an offense that was already top-10 in the league.
Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos will anchor the second line. Cirelli is the team’s top defensive forward and has been gaining recognition for his two-way play over the past couple of seasons. Stamkos, on the other hand, is a huge offensive threat (17 goals and 34 points in 38 games last season).
The other winger spot here could see some shuffling. Alex Killorn projects to be in this spot, and for good reason. Killorn is a regular 40 point player. But I feel this could be a spot where there is the possibility for a Mathieu Joseph type to get chances higher up in the lineup. This is all assuming a team at full health, however. Steven Stamkos has often been injured the past couple of seasons and his absence due to injury could free up that spot beside Cirelli and Killorn instead.
Tampa Bay will have an entirely new third line this season so who plays here could be interesting as it will all be players trying to take on bigger roles, for different reasons. Some options, like Colton, Joseph, and Barre-Boulet, are trying to take the next step in their careers. Others, like Corey Perry, are trying to prove they are still relevant. What is likely for this is Corey Perry on one wing, Ross Colton centring, and a rotating cast of Joseph and Barre-Boulet on the other wing. Until the team finds some combination that works and has chemistry, this could be a blender line.
Patrick “Three Time Stanley Cup Champion” Maroon has been a fixture on the fourth line for a couple of seasons and he will remain there again next season. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare should be a regular in this line as well. Whoever doesn’t make the third line will fill out the fourth line as well, but we could also see some appearances from Gemel Smith, and it might be finally time for Taylor Raddysh or Boris Katchouk to jump up to the NHL level.
Victor Hedman is obviously the team’s number one defender and will anchor the first pairing, eat the tough minutes/matchups, and play in every strength situation. His defensive partner may be a bit inconsistent, however. Jan Rutta spent the most time with Hedman, but Erik Cernak was also up there for a significant amount of time.
Ryan McDonagh will anchor the second pairing. McDonagh has had a drop-off in offensive production the past couple seasons, going from a fairly consistent 30-40 point player down to a pace around the low 20’s. With a bit of fluctuation in the middle-six forwards, the Lightning are hopeful that McDonagh can find some of that offense again to help the cohesion of the new look third line. Whichever of Rutta or Cernak is not with Hedman should play with McDonagh here, most likely Cernak.
Mikhail Sergachev is the odd-man out here and should be on the third pairing. He can play either side on defense though and is an option to partner with Hedman or McDonagh if things need to be switched up. Under normal circumstances, Sergachev will take on the third pairing and some powerplay time. Joining him to start the season should be Zach Bogosian, who has returned to the Lightning after a season in Toronto.
Cal Foote will miss the start of the season but when he returns, expect him to replace Bogosian for the most part.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the starter here without a doubt, look for him to play around 60 games. The Lightning have a new backup goalie this season though as Brian Elliott takes over. His numbers last season were not great (a 3.06 GAA and .889 SV%). Don’t forget though he did play for the Flyers, the worst defensive team in the NHL. I would be surprised if Elliott’s numbers did not improve significantly now that he is playing in Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay Lightning 2021-22 Prediction
1st-2nd Atlantic Division
I can see this team struggling a bit more than usual due to the potential forward depth issues. But the return of Kucherov and the majority of the team’s core remaining intact and in their prime years makes me think they will be able to adapt. It will be a challenge with Toronto still trying to find their way into contender status, the Panthers quickly rising up the standings, and the Bruins still being a competitive team. But with the star power and elite talent at every position, the Lightning have the edge on all three of those teams.
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