Can Tampa Bay repeat as Stanley Cup champions?
Lightning Strikes in Postseason
The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t have the best record after the abrupt end of the regular season, in which only 70 of the scheduled 82 games were played. However, when the Lightning returned to action, after a nearly five-month hiatus, they trailed only the Bruins in the Eastern Conference and landed the No. 2 seed in a three-game round robin as part of the top four teams in the East to determine playoff seeding, with the Flyers getting the No. 1 seed.
But after that, the Tampa Bay Lightning struck down the Blue Jackets, Bruins, Islanders, and ultimately dispatched the Western Conference champs, the Dallas Stars, in six games to win their first Stanley Cup since 2004, and only the second in franchise history.
Tampa Bay compiled an 18-7 playoff record, including the round-robin precursor, but what is even more compelling is that they did it largely without the services of captain Steven Stamkos, who skated a grand total of two minutes and 47 seconds in the playoffs before he apparently re-aggravated a core muscle injury (for which he was operated on back in early March).
However, the boys stepped up: Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman played as big as his 6’6″ frame and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP by netting 22 points over the 25 postseason contests, while playing tremendous defense throughout.
“I’m obviously super proud to get the award, but the big silver thing was the one we were after,” Hedman said. “I tried to bring my ‘A game’ every night. I don’t know. This is not my trophy. This is everyone’s trophy.”
Will Tampa Triumph in 2021?
The good news for Lightning fans is that the core of their team remains intact, with captain Stamkos, regular-season leading scorer Nikita Kucherov, center Brayden Point, perennial Norris Trophy contender and Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman, as well as goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy all under contract. It’s a core group that contributed mightily to bringing home the hardware this season and it would seem the oddsmakers agree as Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup odds over at BetOnline are +750 as of this writing, read a full review here.
General manager Julien BriseBois had only eight days to prepare for free agency after winning the Stanley Cup, with less than $13 million to spend while only 15 of his 23 players remained under contract to begin the offseason “meat” market. The salary cap has held steady at $81.5 million, and general managers around the league have to get creative. They must try to envision signing the right players this season, with a view as to how the effects of the global pandemic will reshape the league several years down the road.
If there was one bright spot for the Lightning brain trust spending so much time together inside the bubble—besides the obvious Stanley Cup victory—it was the breakout sessions between BriseBois and his Assistant General Managers Jamie Pushor and Stacy Roest, as well as his Director of Hockey Operations, Mathieu Darche.
“We got to brainstorm a lot, about our organization,” BriseBois said, “and about other organizations, how they got to be a playoff team, what worked for them, what didn’t work for them, what they need to do going forward, how they might match up with us in terms of helping each other outgoing forward with trades and the like.”
Now the Lightning will be the gold standard every other GM and his coterie will study and try to emulate. BriseBois is fully aware that it’s often tougher to remain at the top of the heap than to get there. But there will be difficult decisions in store and the team that won the Cup only a few weeks ago will be without some of the players who helped the franchise be crowned the best in the world.
“I think it’s important for everyone to get a chance to properly celebrate this championship as a team, with their teammates,” BriseBois said. “I wish I didn’t have to have the kinds of conversations I’m going to have to have as soon as I will. But it’s just the reality of our business.”
And while the Lightning won’t have exactly the same roster next season (which is rumored to begin January 1, 2021), they do have plenty of talent still under contract to do it all over again. There’s a pretty good chance the Tampa Bay Lightning can strike again.
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