In early July, the Tampa Bay Lightning accomplished something only one team this century and eight NHL teams had: they repeated as Stanley Cup Champions. When the play clock reached four zeros and players started celebrating, the other 30 teams were both relieved and excited. Relief over the season finally reaching the end and excitement for who could be poached from the champion’s roster.
The 2020-21 champions had a roster of unparalleled depth top to bottom most hockey fans hadn’t seen since the Detroit Red Wings of two to three decades ago. The salary cap didn’t increase, and it lead to cap casualties before the expansion draft. The roster celebrated their accomplishment and partied hard, yet not even a week and a half passed when general manager Julien BriseBois traded the rights of Barclay Goodrow to the New York Rangers. Then the draft came.
Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Blake Coleman and Luke Schenn were either drafted, signed or traded to different teams. Their famed third line was gone less than 12 hours into free agency. However Tampa did retain some of the depth, finding enough money to re-sign Cal Foote, Ross Colton and Alex Barre-Boulet.
In free agency, the Lightning brought back Zach Bogosian and added fresh faces in Corey Perry, Brian Elliott and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Perry and Bellemare are to replenish and fill space on the third line. The Elliott signing ensures depth and veteran presence when starter Andrei Vasilevskiy needs rest in the regular season. The debate among hockey analysts and fans after these signings are the chances Tampa Bay has to win a third straight title, something last decade’s Penguins team failed to do.
Last article, the Florida Panthers stood out as a team rapidly becoming a Stanley Cup contender. Tampa’s additions of Bellemare and Perry fit because they can both score and play physically. They’re third or fourth line players. The retained depth ensures Barre-Boulet or Colton is promoted as the last of the three line-mates. Foote, Barre-Boulet/Colton and Mathieu Joseph round out the fourth line. Additional depth will come from minor leaguers having a chance to prove themselves.
Defense and goaltender won’t be an issue, but depth offensively could be if injuries arrive early season. The Lightning and Panthers are solid playoff candidates. Toronto is still on the rise and the Boston Bruins haven’t shown decline. The Metropolitan will be tight with both the Rangers and Islanders being favorites and the Capitals and Penguins reliable in their playoff trips. Tampa has to be in the top four of the Atlantic for a favorable playoff spot.
They’ll face everyone’s best starting with Pittsburgh on October 12th. If they cruise into the playoffs around the number five seed (minimum), their state rivals and New York’s metropolitan teams could be the serious bets to send them home without a parade.
Until the Rangers show they’re the real deal, and the Islanders and Panthers win definitively over the Lightning in a playoff series, this team is the sure bet to win three in a row and begin the first dynasty of the 21st century.