The Bolts continue to be a very interesting team, thanks to the personalities they have in place, both on the ice and in management, they continue to win games through long periods of controversy and their cap situation continues to hang over their heads and cause more speculation and stories about their immediate future.
How much of this stuff actually gets reflected on the ice? Well, maybe a good portion, but all of this off-season stuff has to weigh on this franchise to a certain degree. A Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2015, bounced in the Conference Finals last Spring, they are walking a confident stride these days, but there are questions about how long this confidence will last.
Nevertheless, the team has done a good job of keeping all of its moving parts together and they appear to be going into the new season with the better part of their roster from the last two seasons. There is still a little housekeeping to be done and we'll tackle that a little bit later, but the Lightning have found a way to put a team together and seemingly keep it together for a few years. That has to mean something, right?
All of this excitement and these stories will likely keep the Lightning at the front of many poolie's minds, come draft time, so I would imagine that they will be a hot commodity in October.
Table last updated on August 6th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
This is looking more and more like a good year to buy low on some young defensemen, especially if you are in a keeper league of some sort. I know my pool isn't, but maybe it really should be. The Lightning will offer a kid like Slater Koekkoek, who quietly emerged as an everyday defender for the Lightning at the back end of the regular season and through the two rounds of the playoffs.
He didn't pick up very many points in his time on the ice for the Lightning, but I wouldn't be discouraged by that, since he still needed a little bit of experience to get his feet wet in the league. With a number of good options for a blueline partner, Koekkoek will be put in a position where he will be able to succeed and that could make him into a pretty good sleeper-type pick at the end of the draft. He will also still carry his rookie status into next season, which could be good for the mini-games, if they fall that way.
First Round Picks
There are a lot of questions up at the top of the depth chart for the Lightning and that has kept projections down. Will Ben Bishop stay or go? When will Nikita Kucherov sign his new deal? How will Steven Stamkos come back, now that he has his new deal? All three are potential 1st round picks, but none of them got the projection, since they have more questions than answers associated with them.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Jonathan Drouin, Slava Namestnikov and Valterri Filppula... all likely to play well, when healthy, now that they've all received some votes of confidence, some new contracts and some returning linemates. After their Cup Finals run, the Lightning were all of a sudden really deep at forward, but they really only showed how great they could be, when the playoffs rolled around again. That might be something to consider at the draft.
Other Pool Worthy Defense
Their main man, Victor Hedman, will be playing with some job security, after his long-term extension this Summer, but there is little doubt that he will fall short of showing why he will make that big money in 2018. Anton Stralman was a solid contributor last season and then it could be a matter of adding a couple more contributing names to this list, Andrej Sustr and Slater Koekkoek, each had decent playoff performances as well.
Touched on earlier, the immediate future of Ben Bishop is still up in the air and before the season starts, the whole thing could change, which would not only answer a question, but also give the team some much needed cap space. The Lightning have been said to be confident in both Andrei Vasilevskiy and Kristers Gudlevskis, but until Bishop is moved, it is his team.
Team To Pick From?
The parity in the league today makes the call for quality depth far more imperative than in years previous and the Lightning have embraced that fully. I believe that there are players on this depth chart that are worthy of a late round gamble, but the cupboard will feel a bit bare, when all of the main players are gone. Those main players will take up many of those key spots, so be careful how far you dig.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
Still quite a bit of concern with restricted free agents, as Nikita Kucherov is still looking for a new deal, as is defenseman Nikita Nesterov, but we all know where the bulk of the concern actually is. The Lightning would be amiss to not have these two in camp, but they have worked themselves into a bit of a corner.
Those salary cap concerns that were spoken of earlier look a little like this... with a current 23-man projected roster, the Lightning are only $4.54 million away from the cap ceiling and with the way Kucherov has performed over the last couple of seasons, the Lightning are not going to get both with that number, let alone one. Enter the Ben Bishop trade rumours and it all starts to make sense.
In June, the Lightning announced that forward Ryan Callahan had undergone successful hip surgery and that recovery would be in the 4-to-5 months range, which will keep him out of next month's World Cup of Hockey. Callahan was slated to play for the USA in the tournament, but his spot has been taken by Kyle Palmieri of the Devils.