I don’t think any franchise fan can hate the Tampa Bay Lightning in the last three seasons they’ve given to the league. The Lightning have emerged as one of the most dominant teams of the past five years. Without question. With back-to-back championships and now a third straight Stanley Cup final, no one could ask for more. Well, except for what could have been a hat-trick. Three consecutive places for the Stanley Cup Final, it’s not a joke. Especially in today’s NHL. Parity in the league is at an all-time high and the teams that stay at the top are changing very quickly. But Tampa remains one of, if not the greatest of the moment. Although this last trip to the Stanley Cup Final did not end in a victory like the other two, it is incredible that the Lightning even achieved the feat. To do so without their best center is nothing short of remarkable and a testament to the roster Tampa Bay has built.
It boils down to an elite core that the front office has been able to support well over the years. The way they maneuver at the trade deadline is why they can stay so competitive. Tampa Bay’s ability to perfectly augment their roster with every deadline has been inspirational, demonstrating the importance of adjustment. When you have elite talent like Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy, you need to leave no stone unturned to ensure they can have a winning roster every year. Lightning’s front office never lacks that. Of course, their system makes it easy to find players who fit the mold of their culture and play to the strength and identity of the team. And while in recent years they haven’t had such a stellar prospect pipeline, the Lightning are finding guys in their system who are well-developed and making a much-needed impact. Whether it’s a top prospect or a budding AHLer, the Lightning always finds a way. Tampa Bay’s ability to produce these types of players is unmatched and continues to drive success and growth.
And this offseason, they did not hesitate to dream of another Stanley Cup with their additions. The addition of Ian Cole on a one-year deal solidifies their defensive core even with the loss of Ryan McDonagh. He had 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 75 regular season games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season and two points (one goal, one assist) in 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games. A formidable two-way defender, he is one more veteran who, at 33, still has a lot to give. He has a reputation for spending a lot of time in the penalty box, but when he doesn’t, he adds a light ride and decent stopping game. Outside of Cole, the Lightning added Hadyn Fleury and Philippe Myers to their defensive fold. Both are young defenders who can develop into strong midfield defenders. Myers returned in the trade that sent McDonagh to the Nashville Predators. Fleury and Myers are 26 and 25, respectively, and both can handle defensive responsibilities well, which they will have in greater numbers now that they are part of a championship-seeking team.
I like both as low cost additions, which can be reliable for a while and will soon be at their peak. Finally, they added Vladislav Namestnikov. The 29-year-old signed a one-year contract on July 13. He had 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) in 75 games last season with the Detroit Red Wings (60 games) and Dallas Stars (15), and two points (one goal, one assist) in seven games playoffs. Namestnikov played for the Lightning from 2014 to 2018 and had 123 points (53 goals, 70 assists) in 263 games. A depth signing for the attacking group, his reunion is enjoyable as both teams would love to have his scoring knack in the last six attacking group.
The Lightning are full of talent, it’s no secret. But the Lightning’s main goal for this season is good health and an improved score from the third line. Both are high on the Lightning’s wish list. Forwards Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov each missed last season, and center Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Zach Bogosian are expected to miss the first two months of this season due to shoulder surgery. Putting 20-goal scorers Brandon Hagel and Ross Colton on the third line should increase production there. Maybe the new rear additions could help with that, as well as some from Namestnikov. Either way, Tampa has a solid roster that can exploit goals, they just need to come from all parts of their roster. Not just their top producers. It’s key as we’ve seen in their championships and I hope it continues to be an asset for them.
One of the main testimonials of the team and the franchise is their commitment to success. Tampa Bay’s vision is very strong and has led to dynastic playoff success. Doubt the Lightning at your peril. They always find ways to keep the team competitive year after year. It’s about how they manage to maneuver through any situation that comes their way. They can develop young talent, trade effectively to find the right pieces, and stay in the cap. In my opinion Lightning’s front office is world class and I think the results speak for themselves. They place great importance on only bringing in guys with character and put culture above everything else. Julien BriseBois formed one of the finest teams in the history of the league. And he has a great quote about how he feels about his team.
“I don’t think we’re done chasing Stanley Cups here. We’re set to be a really competitive team for the foreseeable future, and hopefully the stars will align for us again at some point and we can bring the Stanley Cup back to Tampa Bay.