Seeking Vengeance, The Lightning Will Strike

After an embarrassing playoff sweep, the Lightning are heavily favored to win the Stanley Cup

clyde, Flickr

Last Year’s Collapse

The 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the best regular season teams in the history of the NHL. Tampa Bay posted a record of 62-16-4 last year, tying the all-time record for regular season wins, and the Lightning had a great chance to break the record. They were 58-13-4 with seven games remaining in the season, but they could only win four of those last seven. 

Tampa Bay coasted to the President’s Trophy by finishing with 21 more points than any other team in the NHL, and the Lightning entered the postseason as 2-1 favorites to win the Stanley Cup. They were heavy favorites against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the NHL Playoffs, but they completely collapsed after blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 1. The Lightning were outscored 15-5 in Games 2-4 and were swept in four games. 

That created an odd scene at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas back in June. Nikita Kucherov won the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Trophy, and Andrei Vasilevskiy claimed the Vezina Trophy for their outstanding regular season performances, but the lack of postseason success cast a pall on the festivities. Tampa Bay is out to rectify that this season, and the Lightning are prodigious favorites to win the 2019-20 Stanley Cup. 

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Offseason Moves

Tampa Bay received some much-needed salary cap help by sending Ryan Callahan to the Ottawa Senators this summer. Callahan had been placed on long-term injured reserve due to numerous injuries and dealing him to Ottawa for Mike Condon freed up $3.4 million in cap space. The Lightning have used that extra salary cap room to try to sign restricted free agent Brayden Point to a long-term deal, but the two sides are currently at an impasse.

The Lightning also dealt J. T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks this offseason, and they let defensemen Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman walk in free agency. However, they were excellent bargain hunters, signing some veteran players at low-cost deals.

Tampa Bay brought in Luke Schenn and Kevin Shattenkirk to shore up its blue line, and 36-year-old Curtis McElhinney is an experienced goaltender that can back up Vasilevskiy. In late August, the Lightning came to terms with St. Louis Blues hero Patrick Maroon as well, providing this team with a gritty veteran that knows that it takes to win it all.

Season Preview

The core of last year’s record-setting team is intact, and that’s the most important thing coming into the 2019-20 campaign. Nikita Kucherov is one of the best players in the NHL, and last year’s league MVP is on a line that makes the most of his skillset. He led the league in assists (87) and points (128) last season, and he is in the prime of his career at the age of 26. 

Steven Stamkos is healthy once more, and that has helped this first line thrive. Stamkos was fourth in the NHL in goals (45) and fifth in the league in goals created (38.5) last year, and the veteran is still on the right side of 30. 

The special teams are superb too. Stamkos and Kucherov are two of the three forwards on the most lethal power play in the league, with Braydon Point rounding out the unit. Point led the NHL in power play goals (20) last year, and Stamkos was right behind his teammate with 19 goals on the man advantage. That three-pronged attack was instrumental in Tampa Bay leading the league in power play percentage last season, as the Lightning scored on 28.2 percent of their opportunities. 

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Victor Hedman was an All-Star last season and remains one of the best two-way blue liners around, and Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to get better in net. He posted a career high .925 save percentage last year, and he could post even better numbers this campaign.

Tampa Bay plays in the more precarious Eastern Conference, but at least the Lightning aren’t in the meat grinder that is the Metropolitan Division. They are in the more manageable Atlantic Division where Toronto and Boston are perceived as the major threats coming into this season. The Lightning are even money to win the Atlantic Division on DraftKings. 

They’re in a position to have another phenomenal campaign and will undoubtedly be seeking vengeance for last year’s collapse.  

Note: The advice above is the writer’s opinion only and does not represent the stance or interest of BetQL in any way.