There wasn’t a lot that went right for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. Injuries absolutely crushed their Stanley Cup potential with Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat among those that missed significant time. The Lightning reloaded in the offseason and with a healthy roster the expectation is that they will contend in the Atlantic division.
How They Finished Last Season
Despite all of the injuries, Tampa Bay still finished just one point shy of a playoff spot last season. The Lightning went 42-30-10 to finish with 94 points, which was one shy of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. Staying healthy will be among the biggest keys to Tampa Bay’s success this coming season. It’s hard to imagine them being hit as hard by injuries as they were a year ago.
What Changed In The Offseason
Salary cap constraints forced the Lightning’s hand when it came to Jonathan Drouin, who was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for top prospect defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. Tampa Bay also added veteran Dan Girardi to fill out what should be one of the deeper defense cores in the NHL. The real boost will come up front with the return of Stamkos. Tampa Bay will need their top-six group to remain healthy. If Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov click like they did at the beginning of last year then the Lightning will be tough to stop. Tampa Bay added veteran winger Chris Kunitz to help provide additional scoring depth. They will also give every opportunity to youngsters Brayden Point and Vladislav Namestnikov with the hope they can take another step forward this season. The Lightning will stick with Andrei Vasilevskiy as their No. 1 goaltender with Peter Budaj back in the No. 2 role.
Most Valuable Fantasy Hockey Asset
While Stamkos has the potential to light it up this season, the real fantasy star on this roster is Kucherov. The 24-year-old was one of two players that finished with at least 40 goals and 40 assists a year ago with Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby the only other player to hit that mark. Kucherov finished third in the NHL with an average of 1.15 points per game and had the third-most powerplay points in the league with 32. If Kucherov remains healthy, he could put up even better numbers lining up with Stamkos.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are lucky to have so many assets up front. That’s what led them to dish off one of their best in forward Jonathan Drouin. They traded him in the offseason to the Montreal Canadiens in return for 19-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. While Drouin was a high draft pick, so was Sergachev. He was taken ninth overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He looks like he’ll one day be a top-four defenseman, which is exactly what the Lightning need.
He could get his career started with the big club this season as he has already taken control in the juniors. He has 100 points in 117 games over two seasons, which is quite impressive. He’s got the body to do it as he’s 6’3, 212 pounds, so it’s not as if he has to grow into it. He could be a factor sooner than later for this Lightning team.
Another player worth keeping an eye on is Yannie Gourde. He doesn’t have the same upside as Sergachev but he could be an asset on the third or fourth line. He had six goals and eight points in 18 games last season and seems like he could be a useful offensive weapon on the back end of the roster.
Regular Season Win Total Outlook
The fact that the Lightning finished last season with 42 wins despite all of their injuries is extremely impressive. The sky is the limit now that they have a healthy roster. Tampa Bay has the potential to challenge for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Their NHL futures regular season win total has been set at 44 wins. Considering all of the changes, there is a good chance the Lightning will record at least three more wins than they did last season.
Pick: Over 44 Wins
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