The loaded-with-talent Tampa Bay Lightning face a daunting challenge: returning to the Stanley Cup Final.
COACH: Jon Cooper
2014-15 RECORD: 50-24-8, 108 points (second in Atlantic, lost to Blackhawks, 4-2, in Stanley Cup Final)
VITAL SIGNS: 3.2 goals per game (1st); 2.5 goals-against (12th), 18.8 power play pct (14th); 83.7 penalty kill pct (7th); PDO: 101.7 (2nd); Corsi For pct.: 51.3 (13th); Fenwick For pct.: 51.3 (13th); face-off pct.: 49.7 (16th)
NOTABLE ARRIVALS: F Erik Condra
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: F Brendan Morrow
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Jonathan Drouin – Steven Stamkos – Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Valtteri Filppula – Erik Condra
Vladislav Namestnikov – Brian Boyle — J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman – Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison – Matt Carle
Braydon Coburn — Andrej Sustr
Nikita Nesterov/Slater Koekoek
Andrei Vasilevskiy (injured)
OUTLOOK: It’s been seven years since a Stanley Cup runner-up returned to the Final the following season, and for good reason. The four-round trek is mentally and physically exhausting, and teams often lose key contributors to free agency or the salary cap before they can mount their second challenge.
There are a few obstacles in the road. Stamkos and his contract situation—he’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season—will loom over this team until it is addressed, one way or another. The Lightning also needs to address a power play that floundered under George Gwozdecky, the former assistant coach who was let go over the summer. But on paper anyway, the Bolts appear primed to dominate the East once again.
Brenden Morrow brought experience and energy to the fourth line, but he went pointless in the playoffs and produced only eight points during the regular season. Winger Condra, 29, scored nine goals and 23 points last season with Ottawa. Set for a bottom-six role, he could see his goal output increase while playing in the talented Tampa Bay offense.
PREDICTION: 110 points, first in Atlantic