It has been a long off-season. The Lightning have had plenty of time to think about their collapse in the first round of the playoffs last year against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The core of last years team that won 62 games returns. GM Julien Breisbois even gave coach Jon Cooper a contract extension.
The Lightning have never had a problem scoring goals except for when it matters most, in the playoffs. The Lightning have always been one of the NHL’s best teams during the regular season under Jon Cooper, but have not had the grit and toughness to win the 16 games it takes to win the Stanley Cup.
Gone are Ryan Callahan who was traded to Ottawa in what has to be one of the strangest deals considering Callahan’s NHL career is over due to his back issues. JT Miller was traded to the Vancouver Canucks, and Adam Erne was dealt to Detroit.
The Lightning added some toughness by signing Pat Maroon to a one year deal. Maroon was on the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues last season and brings a physical presence that has been lacking in Tampa for a while.
Carter Verhaege makes the opening night roster. The 24 year old Verhaege led Syracuse and the AHL in scoring last season with 34 goals and 42 assists for 84 points.
Verhaege had an impressive training camp and Jon Cooper talked a about what Verhaege brings to the Lightning. “His speed has picked up, his possession of the puck, his hockey sense, and he seems to have an ability that the puck sort of follows him around a little bit. He makes really good decisions for the most part in where to put the puck.”
Braydon Point finally came to terms with the Lightning signing a three year contract with an AAV of $6.75 million a year. Point will not be available until late October as he is recovering from back surgery over the off-season.
Point is skating with the team so is hoping to be back sooner. Cedric Paquette who brings a physical presence to the fourth line was hurt in the final pre-season game and according to Jon Cooper will miss a few games.
Steven Stamkos is going to play a lot on the wing this season as Tyler Johnson will move to center full time. It will be interesting to see how this move will affect the overall game of Steven Stamkos.
Gone from the blue line is Dan Girardi who has yet to sign with a team for this season and Anton Stralman who signed with the Florida Panthers.
To replace Girardi and Stralman, the Lightning signed Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Witkowski. Shattenkirk was cut loose by the New York Rangers and the Lightning quickly moved to sign Shattenkirk.
Both Shattenkirk and Witkowski add a physical presence that the Lightning have not had in years. The Lightning were involved in 15 fights last year and Yanni gourde was involved in four of those.
Look for the fighting majors to go up this season as Shattenkirk and Witkowski, along with Pat Maroon will not hesitate to drop the gloves with anyone at anytime.
Goalie Louis Domingue was put on waivers to make room for newly signed Curtis McElhinney who signed a two year contract. McElhinney was outstanding with Carolina in last years Stanley Cup playoffs and will back up Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning are once gain the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season, but the window is closing. This Lightning team is much more balanced and has more talent than the Lightning teams of previous years.
The summer of 2020 will be extremely challenging for the Lightning from a salary cap standpoint, and the Lightning will need to move some salaries to get under the cap.
Jon Cooper is as good of a coach in the regular season as you could possibly want. What Cooper has not done with all this talent is win a Stanley Cup.
With the salary cap issues the Lightning are facing, this could be the last year the Lightning are in such a good position to win the cup.
If the Lightning do not win the Stanley Cup, It would not be a surprise if Jon Cooper is relieved of his duties and a new coach could be brought in.
The Lightning have 82 games to get through first, and it starts with a home and home against the much improved Florida Panthers.
It will be an exciting season and one that should be filled with more ups than downs.
The Lightning are the most talented team in the NHL. Now, they need to make sure that the talent shines when it matters most. The Stanley Cup playoffs.