To cap it all off, we have the Tampa Bay Lightning. What’s not to like about their odds this season? They just came short of the Final last year, but they have developing youth that should push their already stacked core over the top.
Last year the Tampa Bay Lightning finished third in the league and won the Eastern Conference with a franchise record 113 points, before being eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Why they could win
The Lightning are coming into this season with a roster that came one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals last year, and that roster is deep with no noticeable weaknesses. Steve Yzerman has taken a lot of care putting this team together, and it’s paid off.
On offense, the Lightning run what could the all around deepest offense in the league. They have bonafide stars leading the way, and heaps of talented depth to support them. On offense, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov alone would be enough to carry most teams into contention, but Tampa also has players like Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde and J.T. Miller that push them over the top into being the powerhouse that they are.
Same story for Tampa Bay’s defense. Last year’s Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman leads the way supported by Ryan McDonagh, which by itself is just obnoxiously good, but that’s not even it. Anton Stralman is a solid top four two way defender, and Mikhail Sergachev brings incredible speed and is on track to turn into another top pairing defender. There were talks earlier in the month that they could add Erik Karlsson, and if that’s the case, just cancel the season.
Oh and the guy they have in net? 24 year old Andrei Vasilevskiy who was a Vezina candidate last season and in all likely hood will take another step this season and be even better.
Why they won’t win
The pressure is beginning to mount in Tampa Bay, and this could be the last season the Lightning get to make a run without getting a choking label attached to the team. They blew a 3-2 series lead to the Capitals in the Conference Finals, and didn’t score a goal in the final seven periods, and some fans and media are asking if the team can handle pressure. It likely will not be an issue, but sometimes the pressure can get to a locker room.
While Vasilevskiy is without a doubt one of the top goalies in the league, he doesn’t have that great of a backup. Louis Domingue is alright, but Vasilevskiy will still have to carry the majority of the load, and he admitted to being tired last year which led a dip in performance. This the only weakness on paper for Tampa Bay, but still an issue to keep an eye on.
The Lightning also had a brutal penalty kill last year, finishing the regular season in 28th in the NHL last season with 76.1 percent. That’s going to have to improve because the Capitals killed them in the Conference Finals with their power play.
That’s really it. Tampa Bay is absolutely loaded with talent on all fronts, and if all that’s stacked against you is expectations and a below average penalty kill, you’re going to be all right. With so much talent ready to step up, injuries will barely harm them unless everybody goes down, and that is a possibility for every team in the league.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are exactly what a Stanley Cup contender should be. They are loaded at every position, and are going to be even better this season with the development of their youth. There is no way this team doesn’t at the very least make a deep playoff run, and they are our favorites to win the 2019 Stanley Cup.