The Lightning are not a bad bunch of players, they are actually quite good, but once they've hit the playoffs, they can certainly ramp up their game to some amazing levels, only to come up short, due to a lack of experience.
Last season, the Lightning were exceptionally unlucky, when it came to injuries and they were finding themselves behind, more times than they would prefer, as they barely missed the playoffs.
The season starts with some optimism, as their captain, Steven Stamkos, should be able to start the season healthy, they've added some Cup winning experience in Chris Kunitz, some top end youth in Mikhail Sergachev and now they are giving the reins to Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. It's hard not to be excited about this Lightning team, but I wouldn't go too gaga over them quite yet.
Table last updated on August 9th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
When looking at Brayden Point's junior numbers, it should come as no surprise that he should have been able to find the scoresheet in his first NHL season and he did. Now the intrigue lies in his sophomore season, sometimes a crux in a player's career, but playing on a team that is so deep at the forward position, it may help him slide through this season a little more unscathed.
I don't think I would rush to put Point up among the top of the table, quite yet. My initial projection does have him at less points than last season, but this is more for precaution, than anything else. I would be ready to increase his projections upon what he looks like during training camp, but I have been burned by the sophomores before.
First Round Picks
Last season, I didn't have any Lightning players projected for the opening round of the draft and Nikita Kucherov went wild, finishing 10th overall in pool scoring, so he gets his due and is projected to be an 80-point guy again this season. He'll certainly be a marked man this coming season, but he's a shifty character on the ice, so we'll see how he fares with his new found attention.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
Between Kucherov and Point, there are also a few more options for a Lightning forward for your pool team, best taken around their projections. We're hoping that Steven Stamkos can come back strong from another long-term injury, while Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov have all shown some real jam in the last couple of years and a few of these guys have new deals, so their expectations from the team are going to be that much higher.
Other Pool Worthy Defense
The Lightning have one of the premier defensemen in the league and Victor Hedman has taken some real big strides in the last year, jumping over the 70-point plateau and there's no reason why he couldn't do that again. He'll be a good player to buy high on at the draft. Anton Stralman and rookie Mikhail Sergachev also have some real upside this year with the Bolts, they could be very strong from the blueline.
We all saw the Ben Bishop move coming from a year away, so with the big guy now gone, it's Andrei Vasilevskiy's team and it's a pretty good team to be playing behind. He's still pretty young, but he's seen his workload grow over the last three seasons and it has started to work out pretty well for the 23-year old. He'll be a good pick early on and his safety net, Peter Budaj, should also be a good pick later on, since he'll see some time through the inevitable struggles of youth.
Team To Pick From Late?
Looking to gamble on some sleepers out of Tampa Bay? Chris Kunitz might just fit in well with this crew and he could be a little bit better than projected, but his numbers dropped off a lot last season and new surroundings isn't a guaranteed boost. Young defender Jake Dotchin was also starting to show some upside late last season, he could make some moves, while Dan Girardi, much like Kunitz, is in a new jersey and could go either way.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
The Lightning only have one more restricted free agent that didn't scoot off to Europe this summer, forward Tye McGinn. I'm thinking he isn't very likely to be a pool performer, so hence the lack of haste on getting his deal done, although it will likely be done before camp.
With all the wheeling and dealing done this summer, the Lightning have done well to squeeze some new deals in under the ceiling, leaving about $2.5 million in unused space, to date. They'll have some important decisions to make in camp, but there's no real worry here, they should be okay when the puck drops.
The Lightning didn't rush Steven Stamkos for their stretch run, narrowly missing the playoffs in the regular season, trying not to risk further damage before he was 100%. A solid off-season worth of rehab should help his cause and we all expect him to be ready for training camp and the regular season. Once upon a time, Ryan Callahan was a steady hockey pool type player, but injury has been haunting him in the last few years and the 2017 season was all about a hip problem. It sounds like he's expected to be ready for camp, but I don't think that enough for me to increase his projection from as low as it is today.