With the NHL season nearing months away (who else is ready now?), and the chirping of summer crickets on the RFA and UFA signing front, it would appear that a number of teams have a good idea of how their lineups will look come the beginning of October. With that in mind, over the next few months, we will take a look at all 31 teams and how they look for next year. This series will go division-by-division in the order in which I have the teams ranked as #1-8 (or 7 in the Central).
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning had a record-setting year last season, but their early playoff exit, a sweep to the Columbus Blue Jackets, will forever be a stain on what should have been a Stanley Cup victory. Going into this season, the Lightning have a pretty similar roster to last season (if and when Point signs his contract). The Lightning have a great opportunity to repeat last season plus add some playoff success. Let’s take a look at the Lightning depth chart for next season.
- Andrei Vasilevskiy
- Curtis McElhinney
- Louis Domingue
- Scott Wedgewood
- Mike Condon
The Lightning are stacked at the goaltending position, particularly with depth. Vasilevskiy is a top 5 NHL goalie. He put up excellent numbers last season and won the Vezina as the league’s best. To help take off some of the work load, the Lightning opted to sign long-time NHL backup and veteran Curtis McElhinney. McElhinney had an excellent season with the Hurricanes last year and is experiencing his best years in his late 30’s. He will likely get between 20-25 starts next season.
The Lightning may lose Louis Domingue on waivers if they choose to send him down, but he too is an excellent backup option. Domingue was more than serviceable last season and is a great option if either Vasilevskiy or McElhinney get injured. Scott Wedgewood is the likely starter for Syracuse in the AHL, with Mike Condon and potentially Spencer Martin (another free agent signee with lots of experience) likely serving as backups or splitting duty. Both Condon and Wedgewood have been NHL backups in the past to varying degrees of success. One way or another, the Lightning have a load of depth at this position.
- Victor Hedman
- Ryan McDonagh
- Mikhael Sergachev
- Kevin Shattenkirk
- Braydon Coburn
- Erik Cernak
- Jan Rutta
- Luke Schenn
- Luke Witowski
- Cal Foote
- Dom Masin
- Cameron Caunce
The Lighting once again boast a deep defensive core, even with the loss of veteran Anton Stralman. Victor Hedman looks to begin the season healthy and will once again be in the Norris trophy conversation. Ryan McDonagh had a Norris worthy season last year, and while he is unlikely to repeat, he is certainly a solid two-way NHL defender. Sergachev looks to take on a more prominent role next season after playing mostly sheltered minutes in the past. He has a ton of potential and will likely succeed, though he may have some stretches of growing pains.
The Lightning were also happy to snatch up Kevin Shattenkirk after he was bought out by the New York Rangers recently. Shattenkirk had been an excellent offensive-minded defenseman before his recent Rangers stint, and the Lightning hope he can regain his form. Coburn is a solid third-pairing defensive defenseman, and one of Erik Cernak or Jan Rutta will round out the top six. If injuries persists, the Lightning have two players that played in #7/8 roles last season in Luke Schenn and Luke Witowski. Rookies Cal Foote and Masin could also see some minutes and would likely succeed in a sheltered role.
|1. Tyler Johnson||1. Brayden Point||1. Nikita Kucherov|
|2. Alex Killorn||2. Steven Stamkos||2. Ondrej Palat|
|3. Mathieu Joseph||3. Anthony Cirelli||3. Yan Gourde|
|4. Adam Erne||4. Cedric Paquette||4. Taylor Raddysh|
|5. Boris Katchouk||5. Mitch Stephens||5. Alex Volkov|
|6. Cory Conacher||6. Alex Barre-Boulet||6. Gemel Smith|
Forward wise, the Lightning boast some of the NHL’s best stars. Beginning with NHL scoring champion and Hart trophy winner Nikita Kurcherov to perennial point per game center Steven Stamkos and up and coming two-way center Braydon Point, Tampa Bay is loaded with star power.
Outside of these big three, the Lightning have a strong supporting cast. Alex Killorn has been a solid third-line winger for years now and will likely continue being a 40 point player in limited minutes. Yan Gourde has turned into a 50 point guy. Palat is solid two-way forward who can play in all situations when he’s healthy. Mathieu Joseph has scored in the QMJHL and the AHL – his speed makes him a constant threat from the wing. Anthony Cirelli showed last season he is more than capable of filling a third line center role.
Boris Katcouk, Alex Volkov, Taylor Raddysh, Gemel Smith, Mitch Stephens, and Alex Barre-Boulet will all compete for likely two roster spots in camp, with Stephens and Raddysh likely have the upper hand due to AHL experience and their style of play. Overall, this is one of the top forward cores in the NHL and will likely be so again next season.
The Lightning are once again a stacked team heading into next season. They have players at every position who could potentially win a trophy for next season (Hedman the Norris, Kucherov the Art Ross, Point the Selke, Vasilevskiy the Vezina). A President Trophy win is another likely possibility. However, there is one trophy that stands above the rest. As such, anything but a Stanley Cup final berth will look like an underachievement. The Lightning and their fans can hope that last season was a fluke and this season is the year they return to Stanley Cup glory.