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YEARBOOK: 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning's historic playoff defeat has them hungry to prove doubters wrong. Tampa Bay will again be one of the top team's in the league, but this campaign is all about the post-season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning enjoyed a record-breaking regular season last year, tying the all-time NHL mark for wins while putting up offensive numbers the league had not seen in more than two decades.

But the only part of the season that will be remembered is the end, after Tampa Bay became the first Presidents’ Trophy-winning team to be swept in the first round, falling quickly to Columbus. The Lightning will need to push past the disappointment and use last year’s failure as motivation for a roster that, on paper is the clear favorite once again to win the Stanley Cup.

To do so, the Lightning are going to have to dig from within, as Tampa Bay brings back most of its core pieces but no key external additions. Noteworthy departures include J.T Miller, Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi, leaving spots open for young homegrown players.

Tampa Bay had three players surpass the 40-goal and 90-point marks last season, as the Lightning scored more goals (319) than any other NHL team since 1995-96. Nikita Kucherov took the Hart Trophy and the scoring title after hitting 128 points, the most ever by a Russian-born player. Brayden Point had a breakout 92-point campaign, while Steven Stamkos set a career high with 98.

Scoring depth is a strength, with five players reaching the 20-goal plateau and 11 different players hitting double-digits in goals. The only major contributor who won’t return is Miller, who was traded to Vancouver.

The defense joins the attack as well, with Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev all clicking for 30-plus points on a blueline that contributed 43 goals. Sergachev, 21, has already hit 40 points in a season and has an even higher ceiling.

Hedman is a perennial Norris Trophy contender, but Tampa enters the season without a clear-cut candidate to replace Stralman on Hedman’s right side. Depth defenders Jan Rutta and Luke Schenn, signed as a UFA, are the only right-handed options to pair with Hedman, though Sergachev played most of last season on the right.

The tandem of rookie Erik Cernak and McDonagh proved to be a dynamic shutdown pairing after Cernak was called up in November, and they enter the season looking to hold down the same role. Veteran Braydon Coburn, 34, returns after signing a two-year extension.

Vezina Trophy-winner Andrei Vasilevskiy is back for his third full year as the No. 1. But with the league trending toward fewer starts to alleviate the workload for starting goaltenders, the Lightning will look to UFA addition Curtis McElhinney to procure points from the backup role.

A power play that clipped at 28 percent and a penalty kill that ranked at the top of the league provided the Lightning with one of the best special-teams performances in league history. But like the team itself, those special teams were a letdown in the playoffs. With much of the same personnel back, the Lightning figure to be formidable once again when it comes to all aspects of special teams.

The Lightning roster is centered around speed and skill, which has led to speculation they lack the necessary grit to enjoy success in the post-season, even with three appearances in the Eastern Conference final in the past five years and a sixth-place finish in total hits in the regular season. When the playoffs roll around, the Bolts need to find the right recipe to disprove that notion.

There aren’t many open spots available, but Tampa Bay has several young players knocking on the door ready to make an impact. The hopefuls include the AHL’s leading scorer Carter Verhaeghe and rookie-of-the-year Alex Barre-Boulet, top forward prospects Mitchell Stephens, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh and Alex Volkov, as well as defenseman Cal Foote, a 2017 first-round pick.

The massive disappointment from the historic playoff collapse will hover over this team all year. Though the Bolts figure to cruise to another Presidents’ Trophy, they can’t afford to let an emotional hangover affect their mindset in the regular season with Toronto and Boston lurking.

General manager Julien BriseBois is under the gun just one year after taking over the role, trying to get a cap-strapped team to the top. Coach Jon Cooper, who signed an extension in March, remains the longest-tenured bench boss in the league, which often leads to increased scrutiny when expectations aren’t met.

– Erik Erlendsson

Stanley Cup Odds: 7/1

Prediction: 1st in Atlantic


The Bolts are adept at finding hidden gems, with free-agent signing Alex Barre-Boulet being the latest. Nolan Foote, Tampa’s 2019 first-rounder, joins older brother Cal in the organization. Nolan is a power forward with a big shot who needs to stay engaged every game. Father Adam Foote coaches him in Kelowna, where the Rockets host the Memorial Cup. Cal is a defenseman coming off a successful rookie AHL season. Look for Mitchell Stephens to push for an NHL job.

1. Cal Foote, D
Age 20 Team Syracuse (AHL)
Steady and poised in rookie-pro term. Uses size to his advantage. Excellent hockey sense.
Acquired 14th overall, 2017 NHL ’19-20

2. Nolan Foote, LW
Age 18 Team Kelowna (WHL)
Budding power forward has big shot and drives the net well. Consistency and skating need work.
Acquired 27th overall, 2019 NHL ’22-23

3. Boris Katchouk, LW
Age 21 Team Syracuse (AHL)
Good speed with decent size. Is well-rounded offensively and won’t shy away from contact.
Acquired 44th overall, 2016 NHL ’21-22

4. Alexander Volkov, RW
Age 22 Team Syracuse (AHL)
Skates well and plays a solid game without puck. Offense in two AHL seasons impressive as well.
Acquired 48th overall, 2017 NHL ’20-21

5. Taylor Raddysh, RW
Age 22 Team Syracuse (AHL)
His quick release and willingness to battle for pucks have him on power-forward trajectory.
Acquired 58th overall, 2016 NHL ’20-21

6. Mitchell Stephens, C
Age 22 Team Syracuse (AHL)
Super quick and isn’t afraid to work the hard areas. Plays smart defense and battles.
Acquired 33rd overall, 2015 NHL ’19-20

7. Gabriel Fortier, LW
Age 19 Team Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
Small-framed speedster is strong on the forecheck and an honest 200-foot player.
Acquired 59th overall, 2018 NHL ’22-23

8. Sammy Walker, C
Age 20 Team Minnesota (Big Ten)
Pint-sized pivot was top rookie in Big Ten. Work ethic and skating will keep him in conversation.
Acquired 200th overall, 2017 NHL ’23-24

9. Alex Barre-Boulet, C
Age 22 TeamSyracuse (AHL)
Followed up a 53-goal season in QMJHL with 34 goals as an AHL rookie. Size-challenged.
Acquired Free agent, March, 2018 NHL ’20-21

10. Maxim Cajkovic, RW
Age 18 Team Saint John (QMJHL)
Hard-skating winger with a blistering shot. Still developing game-to-game pace and work ethic.
Acquired 89th overall, 2019 NHL ’23-24



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