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2015-16 Tampa Bay Lightning Season Preview
- Updated: September 26, 2015
Last year was a banner year for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that finished fifth in the league standings with 108 points, had four 20-goal scorers, five 50-point achievers, and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Pretty impressive, so why mess with a good thing?
Well, that’s the problem in Tampa Bay this year: while other teams in the Eastern Conference made offseason acquisitions to improve, General Manager Steve Yzerman has chosen to ice largely the same squad as last season.
Sure, the additional year of experience should benefit young players like Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, who combined for 199 points last season. And, while Jonathan Drouin has yet to live up to expectations in the NHL, this could be the year he finally breaks out of the mold. It’s not too far-fetched to think that the additional year of maturity and experience for Tampa Bay’s young core will be more beneficial than offseason acquisitions.
On the flip side, compare the Lightning to another Eastern Conference team like the Detroit Red Wings, who took Tampa Bay to a Game 7 finale in the opening round of the playoffs last season. The Wings largely outplayed Tampa during that game, but the Lightning found a way to pull off the win. That extra year of experience will also benefit the Wings’ young players, like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquest and Riley Sheahan—but Detroit also added offensive depth in Brad Richards, and mobile, puck-moving defenseman Mike Green. All things being equal, would the additions of Green and Richards tilt the outcome of a Game 7 in the Wings’ favor if it were played today?
It would be a grind for sure, and that’s largely because of Tampa Bay’s offensive prowess. The team finished atop the league in goals per game with an average of 3.16. But, the team’s defense isn’t stellar by any means, finishing middle of the pack in terms of goals against last season with 206. Their goals against per game average was 2.51—another middle-of-the-pack stat. What happens if Tampa Bay runs into a team like the Dallas Stars, who finished second in the league last season with a 3.13 goals-per-game average and added Patrick Sharp, a 20+ goal scorer when healthy, during the offseason?
For reference, the Stars also added defenseman Johnny Oduya, penalty killing specialist Patrick eaves, and goaltender Antti Niemi.
In a seven-game series, I say Stars in 6.
The other thing to consider is the future of Steven Stamkos. Entering a contract year, there is no shortage of rumors about Stamkos’ future in Tampa Bay, what it will take to sign him, and the ever-present possibility of him leaving Tampa Bay to play for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs (something Leafs fans desparately want to happen). How will these considerations impact Stamkos’ performance in the upcoming season?
All things considered, Tampa Bay is a lock for another postseason appearance—but how far they go beyond that is anyone’s guess. They are still a heck of a team with some prolific players, but while several other teams in the Eastern Conference improved, the Lightning stayed stagnant. Yzerman might have a trick or two up his sleeve come trade deadline time—especially since by then he should have a better sense of what the future holds for Stamkos in Tampa Bay, but, until then, it’s not far-fetched to predict a second round loss at best for the 2015-16 Tampa Bay Lightning.