Whatever happens to the Tampa Bay Lightning this upcoming season, it’ll all have been worth it.
Two Stanley Cups (though in seriously borked circumstances thanks to the pandemic) and an additional Final appearance in 2022, as well as a 128-point season in 2018-2019 (best not to discuss how that one ended). Sure, the more acerbic among us will gleefully point out that they were the first team to lose a playoff series to the Toronto Maple Leafs since the Truman administration or whatever (never me!), but few teams have wrung out more from their window than the Bolts.
Good thing, too, because it might come crashing down this season.
There seems to have been foreboding organ music playing over the Lightning’s training camp, and that was before the big news dropped. This is a team that has aged, as all do. There isn’t a top-six forward that’s under 25, and Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are on the wrong side of 30. Key depth players such as Alex Killorn and Ross Colton have been lost to the salary cap blues, as previous key pieces to the dominant Lightning teams we remember have before. There also isn’t really an injection of youth to try and juice the operation, as no regular as of now is under 25.
Speaking of Stamkos, all of the above would be forecasting a level of doom for a team with an assload of miles on the odometer already, but there’s even worse vibes coming from the captain. Stamkos is in the last year of his contract, and the Lightning GM has made it quite clear he’s in no rush to extend that deal any further. And Stamkos has made it quite clear that he’s pretty pissed about it.
This is a dance the two sides have done before, right before Stamkos signed his current deal in 2016 right as Leafs and Habs fans were inviting him to measure the drapes at various houses in their respective bergs. But GM Julien Briesebrois probably has some cause to wait and see what this Lightning team is, and what Stamkos is. The captain will turn 34 this season and there’s a debate to be had as to whether he’s in decline. His goal scoring and chance-production were about where they’ve been for the past few years and he was undone by a lower shooting-percentage, which just happens sometimes. But his possession-metrics were off from previous work. To boot, if the Lighting go in the tank this year and this cycle for them looks to be finished, how much and how badly is Brisebois going to want to commit to a player in his mid-30s? Especially one that’s going to command significant cash, even if the cap is going up in future years.
That all would be bad enough, but the real bomb dropped today:
A 29-year-old goalie with four extended playoff runs on his resume goes for a backiotomy? In the words of the immortal Hawk Harrelson, “THAT’S TROUBLE!” The Lightning will be counting on someone called Jonas Johansson, who has 35 games of experience over four seasons. He’ll be joined by Hugo Anelfelt, who had 33 starts in the AHL last year for a .904 save-percentage. Given how hard it is to make up ground in the NHL if a team gets behind the sticks early in the season, this is a worry.
And there isn’t a lot of room for error in the Atlantic Division. Sure, the Bruins are going to come tumbling off the mountain, but both the Sabres and Senators are widely tipped to take a step forward this season (I’m contractually obligated to say that the Wings might, too, otherwise agents wearing sunglasses will come and take me away…but they won’t). The Bruins won’t be as good as they were, but they still come with the best goaltending tandem in the league. The Leafs are still here, and the Panthers are the returning Eastern Conference champions. Losing ground early isn’t the swiftest of ideas in this place.
So an old team, a cranky captain, and a star goalie on the mat. Who’s ready for some hockey in Tampa?
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social
Original source here
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