The preparation for the 2018-19 season has already begun in Tampa, as Steve Yzerman gave two coaches their walking papers. Rick Bowness and Brad Lauer will not be back next season after the defense failed to live up to expectations and the PK was abysmal most of the season.
The Lightning will take their time filling these positions on Jon Cooper’s staff as Yzerman will make sure to try to get the right fit for this team going forward.
The Lightning gave up 2.85 Goals per game good for 11th in the NHL, but not good enough as the Lightning fell short of their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup. This will be the first of many off-season changes for the Lightning as major re-tooling will need to be done on the blue line to get the Lightning back to playing defensive hockey at a championship level.
The Lightning had their moments during the playoff run, where the defense was stifling. But when it counted most, the Lightning defensively could not get the job done and that ultimately cost Bowness and Lauer their jobs.
Victor Hedman and Michael Sergachev are the only two defensemen I can say with any degree of confidence that will be back with the Lightning next season. Andrei Sustr will not be back. Good chance Braydon Coburn does not return as he is a UFA. Ryan McDonaugh, Dan Girardi, and Anton Stralman are all UFA’s.
McDonaugh was thought to have been the missing piece defensively when the Lightning acquired him with JT Miller at the trade deadline, But Miller proved to be the best player in that deal and the Lightning need to get him signed to a contract extension over the summer.
Chances are better than 50/50 that Stralman and Girardi return next season, but with that being said Yzerman has his work cut out for home to get this defense back to the level it needs to be at to win a championship.
Jake Dotchin is also a UFA. I would like to see the Lightning re-sign him and give him a chance to showcase his skills over the course of a whole season. Slater Koekkoek is probably not coming back, as he was scratched quite often late in the season.
Cal Foote the 19 year old son of Adam Foote, will get a look during training camp to make the team, but will probably need a year at Syracuse.
The Lightning traded Peter Budaj back to the LA Kings in exchange for Andy Andreoff. That pretty much solidifies Louis Domingue as the backup G to Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Chris Kunitz will probably not be back as he is 38 and the Lightning will give the young talent at Syracuse a chance in camp to make this club. Alexander Volkov, Taylor Raddysh, and Mitchell Stephens are all ready to contribute at the NHL level.
Would Yzerman trade some of this young talent to bring in a top defensemen or two? Possible. Yanni Guarde and Braydon Point developed nicely when given the opportunity, and some of the young kids at Syracuse are ready for their shot. I think Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat could be traded to bring in a top defensemen.
At some point, Yzerman will have to start thinking about singing Nikita Kucherov to a long term contract. He has one more season left on his contract and will be a RFA.
So it is shaping up to be a busy summer for the Lightning as they will have to fill two positions on the coaching staff, remake the blue line, and make plans to sign Kucherov to a long term deal.
Steve Yzerman is entering the last year of his contract as well. Let’s hope Jeffrey Vinik can get Yzerman signed to a contact extension. Yzerman has been a key component of the Lightning’s success these last four years and is one of the best GM’s in the business.