The Lightning scored goals... 296 goals, in fact, 19 goals better than their closest competitor in the race. That added up to 54 wins, those most wins in the NHL. Remarkably, they didn't lose enough games in extra time or else they would have won the President's Trophy and that's an argument for another day. Most goals, most wins... tops in the Eastern Conference standings, they had a lot going on for them, without a doubt.
This team was quick, strong, dangerous and hard to play against all year long, so how did they possibly lose in the playoffs? The old adage about running into a hot goalie and a player in need of fulfilling his NHL hockey destiny does come to mind. Those are two things that could overlap a pretty strong year, especially the goalie. We've seen it before and we'll likely see it again. Thankfully for the Lightning, their window for another championship is far from closed, they are among the group of teams that have developed into a strong franchise, with little sign of letting up.
For the better part of the regular season, Andrei Vasilevskiy was the leader in hockey pool points, as his season was strong, start to finish. If it just wasn't for some punk kid in Edmonton, getting all hot and stuff near the end of the year, it would have been an MVP-type year for the Russian backstop. In total, Vasilevskiy made 65 appearances, won 44 games and finished with 106 points to be 2nd overall in pool scoring, tops among all goalies. It was one hell of a year.
With all of those goals scored, you 'd think that the Lightning would have more players than just 12 on the pool worthiness list, but those 12 players were pretty darn good. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, J.T. Miller and Tyler Johnson were all among the top 100 forwards, while Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat were also tied into the top 200 as well. Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev and trade deadline acquisition Ryan McDonagh were the only three defensemen on the list for worthy pool candidates on the blueline. You probably thought there was going to be more of them there too, yeah? The Lightning were very top-heavy in the regular season, which is good for us hockey poolies, but teams can take that sort of play away in the playoffs too.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
The Lightning have some work to do in this off-season, more within their own organization, with their restricted free agents, more than anything else. At the face of their current signed roster, it doesn't look like they have a lot there to work with, but that's going to change throughout the summer and I'm sure it's not only going to be signings done here. Management has had a good handle on what they've needed, they've just experienced some bad luck. A healthy Stamkos can vault this team back into contention and it will just be a matter of getting to the playoffs, before the real show starts for these guys. Their needs for this off-season include a good third defenseman and a quality back-up goalie, sign their free agents and I think this team has a shot at a division title.
Well, a healthy Stamkos did go a long way in 2018, that's for sure. The acquisition of Sergachev was also unbelievably huge for this team. Vasilevskiy played so much, they didn't have to worry about their backup goalie, so that was good. They earned their division title, they were the best in the Eastern Conference (in the regular season) and it was a pretty good year. Yeah, I would say management has a pretty good idea of what's going on there.
How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?
Watching Brayden Point at the junior level, one would have had to believed he had a lot to give, once he made it to the bigs. He was definitely one to watch and one I had on my list to pick up in the season at the draft, but I was foiled, waiting just a little bit too long to snap him up and I paid for it. Point had a brilliant year, 32 goals and 66 points in all 82 games for the Lightning, he blew my projection of 45 points right out of the water. Granted, that's where I was going to be most comfortable taking him.
2019 Pool Outlook
|Steven Stamkos||8.500||Victor Hedman||7.875||Andrei Vasilevskiy||3.500|
|Ryan Callahan||5.800||Ryan McDonagh||4.700||Peter Budaj||1.025|
|Ondrej Palat||5.300||Anton Stralman||4.500|
|Tyler Johnson||5.000||Braydon Coburn||3.700|
|Nikita Kucherov||4.767||Dan Girardi||3.000|
|Alex Killorn||4.450||Mikhail Sergachev||0.894|
|Yanni Gourde||1.000||Jake Dotchin||0.813|
The Lightning are already looking awfully strong for the coming season, with 11 of their 12 pool worthy players already signed on and penciled in on the roster. This will certainly make them into a very popular team at next season's hockey pool draft, but you will want to avoid Ryan Callahan, as he underwent shoulder surgery this past week and his recovery will likely take him into November.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
J.T. Miller is the only free agent-to-be out of the hockey pool worthy players and he'll become a restricted free agent in July, unless an extension pops up before then. That keeps the Lightning workload to a minimum in this off-season.
I am currently showing the Bolts with $6.5 million in cap space with the 21-man roster above, including Callahan, so they'll have room to re-sign Miller and hopefully tinker a bit with their forward group, ahead of next season.
We saw a great deal of Anthony Cirelli in this last playoff run and boy, did he ever look like a pro player. Cirelli filled a big role in the bottom six, adding some speed and grit to this Lightning team, forechecking hard and even potting a couple of goals to help out the team. His 11 points in 18 regular season games is also a huge indicator that he'll be a good point producer for this team, possibly even having him bump up to the top six, every once and a while. He's definitely one to circle for next season's hockey pool draft.
Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
Adding a piece like Ryan McDonagh to your franchise is going to cost your club a hefty price and for the Lightning, it included their 1st round pick this year, which means that the Rangers have three picks in the opening round.
At this point, I see the Rangers taking the best player available to them or something thereabouts, like a pure goal scorer would probably help. Finnish forward Rasmus Kupari projects to be a quick little scorer, once he can work his way into an everyday level at the pros. He'll likely need some seasoning at various levels, but his upside appears to be quite good.
I have a feeling that we'll continue to see a lot of this Lightning team in the next season and beyond, they have been put together so well and their ability to draft good young talent, albeit not in the 1st round this year, has been good in recent years, keeping the low of talent alive and well through their system. There are too many impressive pieces of this puzzle to name, which have all chipped in well and project to do the same next season. The Atlantic Division will be a tough division to play in, the Lightning strong, the Bruins still pretty tight and then the likes of Toronto coming up quickly and the Panthers even doing their bit. I still like Tampa for tops today and they'll be one of those teams that will contend for the big prize at the end.