Tampa Bay Lightning season preview
For the first time in a long time, the Tampa Bay Lightning had an extended summer after losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. For some odd reason, the Lightning seem to be a bit underrated going into the 2023-24 campaign. As long as Tampa Bay has Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Andrei Vasilevskiy, this team is going to be competitive.
Tampa Bay has been a strong offensive team for quite some time now, and that narrative did not change last season. The Lightning finished eighth in goals per game (3.41) while also having the third-highest scoring chances per 60 (33.91). Point may have had the quietest 51-goal season in NHL history, and of course, Kucherov put up another incredible offensive season. Tampa might not be as deep as they have been offensively due to the departures of Ross Colton, Pat Maroon, Alex Killorn, Corey Perry, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, but they’ll be just fine feeding off of their first line and very successful man-advantage unit that finished third last season.
The 2022-23 season was a down year for the Lightning, defensively speaking. That could partially be due to the exhaustion of three straight years of runs to the Stanley Cup Final. A long summer could be very beneficial to this group, which has a strong defensive core that is highlighted by Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev.
They finished in the middle of the pack in goals against (3.07) as well as their penalty kill (79.7%), and they finished toward the bottom in shots against per game (31.5). Tampa should definitely improve on their own this coming season.
The one area that hasn’t been a concern for the Lightning is their goaltending. Vasilevskiy is still the best netminder in the NHL in my opinion. He had another strong season in 2022-23, skating to 34 wins while maintaining a .915 save percentage and 2.65 goals against average, along with a league’s sixth-best +25.3 goals saved above expected. The Bolts brought in Jonas Johansson to be a backup, but he has only appeared in 35 games in his NHL career which leads me to think that he won’t have a big impact on this group.
Player To Watch – F Steven Stamkos
Stamkos has been an offensive weapon in almost every season of his 15-year career (all with the Lightning), but lately, he has voiced his frustrations with the lack of conversation around renewing his contract with the organization. He is entering his 16th season, and the final year of his contract with Tampa, so it will be interesting to see how that pressure affects his play. He is coming off of an 84-point season (34 goals, 50 assists), but the trade rumors are inevitable. Stamkos can still perform at a very high level, and it will be fun to follow this storyline in the 2023-24 season.
There will certainly be some drama surrounding Stamkos this season, but Vasilevskiy should be able to carry this team to the playoffs. I don’t think Tampa will win the division, but they should be able to compete for the second or third spot without worrying about the wild card.