Through the regular season, the Lightning were a very impressive team, finishing 2nd in the Atlantic Division, despite some of their 2015 playoff heroes not making nearly the impact that led them to the Cup Finals last Spring.
Injury played a part in having an inconsistent lineup, which may have led to some of their scoring woes through the year, as they were middle of the pack in goals for, with only 227 to their name, by the end of the year. Only three players played 80+ games and no one played in all 82 on their final roster.
The Lightning will now go into this off-season as one of the main focuses of every party involved, including the other 29 teams and fans across the league, as they have lots of questions to be answered and the most high-profiled free agent-to-be, possibly making his way out of town this Summer. The Lightning are still built for immediate success, but can they go over the hump and win the Cup in the near future?
The 2015 playoff success did keep the Lightning popular among poolies at the draft in September, with 14 players taken and two of those players were taken in the opening round, Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos. The pool tinkered a little, as one was dropped and another picked up in Week Nine, and wasn't touched in Week Eighteen. This meant that it was a very similar bunch of Bolts at the start of the season, compared to season's end, staying at 14 players.
Bishop was the best Lightning player, in terms of pool scoring, finishing with 35 wins, 6 shutouts and an assist for 83 points, which was good enough for 8th overall and 5th among all goalies in scoring.
Back-up goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, was among the 12 other pool worthy players for the Lightning this year, as they fell just below the expectations of the poolies in this draft. Vasilevskiy finished 47th among all goalies, but is poised to take steps in the right direction next season. Up front, in order, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan were all worthy and made considerable contributions through the year. On defense, Tampa wasn't quite as deep as some teams, finishing with only three of note, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Andrej Sustr.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
Thanks to a lack of free agency concerns, the Tampa Bay Lightning are on track to keep the same core group of players into the 2016 season and that can only mean good things for this club. You could even argue that the need for change isn't even all that needed, but I'm sure a little bit of tinkering will be done. There is going to be a strong push for a division title in 2016, as Montreal will still be a tough team to play against and Detroit may still feature in the playoff hunt, but this side really has their engines fired up. If this side remains intact through to the playoffs, I would expect much of the same result, since it was the injuries to Bishop and Johnson, their two shining stars of the playoffs, which maybe cut their Cup dreams short. Staying healthy is always job number one, but something you can't predict a year away.
Everything there really did work in Tampa's favour in the 2016 season, but those injuries to Stamkos and Stralman before the playoffs and arguably another injury to Bishop in the playoffs, set the collective back a little bit. They had their strong push for a division title and they were very close to possibly losing out in the Cup Finals again (the same result as last year), so it was a very solid prediction last year. I don't think it will be nearly as easy this year though, lots of changes coming here, I would imagine.
2017 Pool Outlook
|Ryan Callahan||5.800||Victor Hedman||4.000||Ben Bishop||5.950|
|Valtteri Filppula||5.000||Anton Stralman||4.500||Andrei Vasilevskiy||0.925|
|Ondrej Palat||3.333||Andrej Sustr||1.450|
|Brian Boyle||2.000||Matthew Carle||5.500||Adam Wilcox||0.925|
|Erik Condra||1.250||Jason Garrison||4.600|
|Matthew Peca||0.925||Braydon Coburn||3.700|
|Anthony Cirelli||0.925||Slater Koekkoek||0.894|
|Jonathan Drouin||0.894||Anthony DeAngelo||0.894|
|Adam Erne||0.874||Dominik Masin||0.839|
|Mitchell Stephens||0.839||Dylan Blujus||0.743|
|Brian Hart||0.703||Matt Spencer||0.743|
|Brayden Point||0.693||Ben Thomas||0.690|
|Jonne Tammela||0.690||Daniel Walcott||0.650|
|Cameron Darcy||0.642||Jake Dotchin||0.617|
Questions, questions, questions... how is this roster going to shape up for next season? Do the Lightning have too much cap space devoted to defensive defensemen? Will Jonathan Drouin be on this roster next season and if so, will he make an impact? Where is Steven Stamkos going to end up? Is it Andrei Vasilevskiy's time now? The Lightning have a plan, so I don't think there should be much panic right now, but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. How popular are they going to be at the draft this Fall?
By my count, defenseman Slater Koekkoek will still have his rookie status for the 2017 season and his play in the playoffs will linger in the minds of management and the coaches of this team and that could easily make a deal to ship out one of those big contracts a lot easier to make. Koekkoek will be 22 years old at the start of next season, so his development is coming along quite nicely, so if he can crack the lineup as an everyday guy, he could add an element of scoring and possibly be worthy as a rookie next season.
Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft
The Lightning don't have any glaring needs at the draft, so they can take their 1st round pick, 27th overall, and take what they believe is the best player available. A generally undersized Tampa Bay team could possibly use a big winger on their side, even if he is considered to be a project in some circles. Tage Thompson is in the 6'5"/6'6" range in height and already has a frame on him, he ranks high with the Central Scouting and ISS, but lacks with the Hockey News. If he's a project kind of guy, he could be one that develops into the Lightning system as well.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
It's no secret that Steven Stamkos has already qualified for unrestricted free agent status and his relationship with the coaching staff has been strained for sometime. With that being said, it sounds like he'll be on the move, one way or another, this off-season. You would have to believe that the Lightning have a date in mind, sometime around the draft, where they pull the pin and trade his rights away, so they don't come away empty-handed.
If Stamkos is to go, that will open up a lot of cap room and guys like Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov will all have a little bit more to draw from, when it comes down to their restricted free agent contract negotiations. These three are definitely in the long-term plans, but let's see how crafty the management will get with their new deals.
The Bolts going forward have about 14 players, I would say have jobs to lose next season and that doesn't include Jonathan Drouin. Those guys are coming in at $51.3 million, which does leave a good chunk of change to play with, but these free agent decisions will play a massive role in next season's success.
Personally, I don't see Stamkos returning to the Lightning, but this team won't come away empty-handed. Any deal that ships him out in this off-season, will certainly have a pool worthy player in return, maybe even two, but a bundle of futures for this team to help retool underneath the active roster. The Stamkos blood clot did a lot to solidify the roster, when he wasn't in the lineup, so there is a lot of belief that they won't have to go too crazy in this offseason, to end up close to where they finished up this season and I think that's about right. I would expect a divisional playoff spot and for their top guys to ramp it up in the playoffs again. Many factors go into how far a team travels in the playoffs, but if they are all healthy, they have more than enough experience to carry them all the way.