It has been a long off-season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. 149 days to be exact since getting swept out of the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-0.
It was one of the most surprising upsets in NHL playoff history as the Lightning steamrolled through the regular season, winning an NHL record 62 games and the Presidents Trophy only to bow out in four straight games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Lightning captain Steve Stamkos said it best. “We could sit and pout in the corner, but it’s not going to change anything that happened last year, I’m hoping guys come in with that extra motivation and a little chip on their shoulder, because I know I will.”
What has changed since that April night in Columbus? Well, not much. The roster remains pretty much intact except for a couple of additions to the blue line and the restructuring of the forward group.
The goalie room will look a bit different as the Lightning signed former Carolina Hurricane Curtis McElhinney to a two year contract to back up Andrei Vasilevskiy.
McElhinney was 20-11-2 last season with a 2.58 goals-against average.
Louis Domingue who did a great job backing up Vasilevskiy last season will play sparingly this pre-season as the Lightning will try to work a trade with another team. If the Lightning cannot trade Domingue the plan is to put him on waivers.
During the off season, the Lightning traded forward JT Miller to the Vancouver Canucks. Ryan Callahan was traded to the Ottawa Senators, and Adam Erne was dealt to Detroit.
The Lightning signed forward Patrick Maroon from the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues to bring some grit and a physical presence to the forward position.
Maroon said that one of the keys to the Blues winning the Stanley Cup was that they wore teams down. That has been the downfall of the Lightning the last five to six years. Lots of skill and firepower, but no grit and physicality to their game and teams have been able to wear them down in the playoffs.
Braydon Point has been a no show at camp so far as he is awaiting a contract extension.
General Manager Julien Breisbois said over the summer that he expected to have Point signed before training camp. That has not happened yet and according to Pierre LeBrun of TSN the Lightning and Point are far apart in negotiations.
The Lightning have reportedly offered Point a three year deal averaging $5.8 million a season. That is well below the six year $65.358 million dollar contract given to Toronto Maple leafs forward Mitch Marner.
Depending on how the contract negotiations go with Braydon Point, there are one or maybe two spots open on the forward lines.
Cory Conacher, who has NHL experience but played last season in the AHL is one candidate, along with newcomers Carter Verhaeghe who led the AHL with 82 points last season, Alex Barre-Boulet who led the AHL along with Verhaeghe with 34 goals last season is another candidate for the forward position.
Defensemen Dan Girardi was not re-signed and Anton Stralman will not be back as he signed with the Florida Panthers.
New to the blue line are Kevin Shattenkirk who played with the New York Rangers last season, Luke Schenn, and Luke Witkowski. Braydon Coburn and Jan Rutta were also re-signed giving the Lightning nine defensemen. Witkowski will probably be the odd man out and end up at Syracuse barring any kind of injury.
Cameron Guance and Cal Foote will get a good look in training camp, but we will probably see these guys more mid-season than makeing the Lightning roster right out of training camp.
The big focus of training camp and the season will be improved play on the defensive end and the ability to cut down on the amount of penalties that the Lightning took last season.
As disappointing as last years sudden exit from the playoffs this is a new season and head coach Jon Cooper summed it up perfectly, “New season, different team. Let’s get after it.”
The Lightning will play their first pre-season game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.