Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Tampa Bay Lightning 2019-20 season preview

From Getty Images


         It might have been said a million times this offseason how the Lightning collapsed in 2018-19. They tied the record for most wins in a season with 62, they had the Hart winner on their team, and had three 40 goal and 90 point scorers, and nine players with at least 40 points. But they fell against the Blue Jackets in the first round, and were swept. The Lightning enter the preseason needing to sign one of their top players, and figuring out how to succeed in the playoffs.

         Additions: Patrick Maroon, Kevin Shattenkirk, Curtis McElhinney, Luke Witkowski, Luke Schenn, Mike Condon, Gemel Smith, Scott Wedgewood

         Subtractions: JT Miller, Anton Stralman, Adam Erne, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi

         Forwards
Not only did the Lightning finish with 128 points on the season, Nikita Kucherov did too. He scored 41 goals with 87 assists for 128 points, leading the league in the latter two. He won the Hart and Ted Lindsay awards at the end of the year. Steven Stamkos finished with a career high 98 points, and he scored 45 goals for the first time since he won the Rocket Richard with 60 in 2011-12. The Lightning have just under $8.5 million in cap space to sign RFA Brayden Point. Point scored 41 goals with 92 points. 20 of his goals came on the powerplay, which led the league. The forward with the next most points, Yanni Gourde, nearly had half as many points as Point. Gourde finished with 22 goals and 48 points, but he still dropped off from his rookie 2017-18 season. Not counting his 14 games in 2012-13, Tyler Johnson's 18 assists were a career low. But, he scored 29 goals, tied for his career high. Alex Killorn scored 18 goals with 40 points, and was a +22 for the second consecutive season. He also kills penalties. Another penalty killing forward is Anthony Cirelli. As a rookie, Cirelli scored 19 goals with 39 points. He finished 6th in Calder and 11th in Selke voting. Ondrej Palat has regressed over the last few years. He scored just eight goals in 2018-19, with 34 points in 64 games. The Lightning signed veteran forward Patrick Maroon, fresh off a Stanley Cup victory with the Blues. Maroon scored 10 goals with 28 points last year. Rookie forward Mathieu Joseph scored 13 goals, giving the Lightning solid third line production. Fourth line center Cedric Paquette scored a career high 13 goals. Danick Martel eyes the final spot on the wing. In nine games last year, he had two assists. 2015 2nd rounder Mitchell Stephens could be the depth forward. He scored 11 goals with 24 points in 32 AHL games. Another option is Carter Verhaeghe, who scored 34 goals with 82 points in 76 AHL games.

           Defensemen
Victor Hedman, who entered 2018-19 as the reigning Norris trophy winner, put up another great season, with 12 goals and 54 points. He was a Norris finalist for the third consecutive season, finishing third. Ryan McDonagh finished his first full season with the Lightning with a career high 46 points and +38 rating. Mikhail Sergachev took a minor step back from his rookie season, with 32 points. He is still just 21. Erik Cernak, part of the Ben Bishop trade, had a good rookie season, with 16 points and a +25 rating in 58 games. He will take Anton Stralman's top four spot. Brayden Coburn had 23 points, his most since 2011-12. He re-signed to a two year deal in the offseason. The team signed Kevin Shattenkirk to a one year deal. He had four consecutive 40 point seasons from 2013-14 to 2016-17, but he didn't reach 30 in his two seasons with the Rangers. He was bought out by the team. Jan Rutta was acquired midseason, then had two assists in 14 games for Tampa. He has 28 points in 94 career games. Former fifth overall pick Luke Schenn signed with the Lightning. He had two assists in 26 games for the Canucks and Ducks last year. He has 145 points in his 11 season career.

              Goalies
The Lightning didn't just have the Hart winner, their goalie won the Vezina Trophy. That would be Andrei Vasilevskiy. In his age 24 season, Vasilevskiy had a 2.40 GAA and a .925 SV%. He had a league leading 39 wins. The team signed Curtis McElhinney, who had one of the best seasons of his career at age 35. He had a .912 SV% and a 2.58 GAA for the Hurricanes. He had a 2.01 GAA and .930 SV% in five playoff games. The signing of McElhinney puts last year's backup, Louis Domingue, in an awkward spot. Domingue had a .908 SV% and a 2.88 GAA last year.

               Deep Depths
Luke Witkowski returns to the Lightning. They drafted him in 2008 and he played 2014-15 to 2016-17 in Tampa Bay, but was with Detroit the last two seasons. He had two assists in 34 games last year. The Lightning also signed Gemel Smith, who played in 17 games for the Stars and Bruins last year. He scored 16 goals with 40 points in 47 AHL games. The team also signed Scott Wedgewood, who had a .908 SV% and 2.68 GAA last year in the AHL.

              Up and Coming
2017 first rounder Cal Foote could be NHL ready. In his first AHL season, the defenseman scored 10 goals with 31 points in 76 games. The team drafted his brother, Nolan, in the first round this past year. In his first AHL season, Taylor Raddysh scored 18 goals with 46 points in 70 games in his rookie AHL season. Alexander Volkov scored 23 AHL goals for a second consecutive season, with 48 points.

               2019 draft class
Round 1, 27th overall: Nolan Foote
Round 3, 71st overall: Hugo Alnefelt
Round 3, 89th overall: Maxim Cajkovic
Round 4, 120th overall: Max Crozier
Round 6, 182nd overall: Quinn Schmiemann
Round 7, 198th overall: Mikhail Shalagin
Round 7, 213th overall: Mckade Webster

               Management
Jon Cooper has been the Lightning Head Coach since the end of 2012-13, making him the league's longest tenured coach. The Lightning have a .644 winning percentage under Cooper. After taking over for Steve Yzerman, GM Julien Brisbois has the challenge of getting the Lightning over the hump in the playoffs.

                Projected Lineup
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph
Danick Martel - Cedric Paquette - Patrick Maroon
Extras: Mitchell Stephens, Gemel Smith, Carter Verhaeghe

                Victor Hedman - Erik Cernak
                Ryan McDonagh - Mikhail Sergachev
                Braydon Coburn - Kevin Shattenkirk
Extras: Luke Schenn, Luke Witkowksi, Jan Rutta, Cal Foote

                              Andrei Vasilevskiy
                              Curtis McElhinney
                              Louis Domingue
Extras: Mike Condon, Scott Wedgewood

                  Prediction
The Lightning are stupid good. While their postseason collapse last season hurts, the team is still very good, and while they lost JT Miller and Adam Erne, they made veteran additions in Maroon, Shattenkirk and McElhinney. I still think they will finish 1st in the Atlantic Division.

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