Finally the 2021-2022 NHL season is upon us as Wednesday the puck drops on the new campaign. One thing stands true, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still the team to beat in the NHL. Tampa is coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup wins, the first coming in the COVID bubble in Edmonton in 2019. Tampa would then continue their dominance in the 2020 season without the use of Nikita Kucherov who famously sat out the entire season with an injury, saving the Tampa Bay Lightning cap space. The Lightning would then enter the 2020-2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a roster that was $17.3M over the salary cap. They would defeat the Montreal Canadiens in five games to capture their second Stanley Cup in as many years. Are they truthfully the team to beat next season? Today we look at both why they are and why they aren't.
BRING. IT. OUT. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/w07PAnBjNC
Why They Will
They have the best depth in the NHL, still, despite losing Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow in the offseason. Tampa Bay showed their strengths last season, dominating the regular season despite missing their best player in Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning didn't just let players walk though, they made some key moves in the offseason to replace those players. Acquiring Corey Perry and Pierre-Edourad Bellemare. Perry is a solid 3rd line right-winger that recently lost to Tampa Bay as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, previously playing for the Dallas Stars and 14 seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. Bellemare recently played with the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche, he will be a solid 4th line center option for the Lightning.
Tampa also locked up key players Brayden Point and Ross Colton to team-friendly contracts, allowing for them to maneuver the salary cap better. Importantly for the Lightning, they added depth in goaltending through Brian Elliott, allowing multiple Vezina finalist Andre Vasilevskiy to have some time off during the season. Vasilevskiy has without a doubt been the best goaltender in the NHL over the last 5-years, even if he hasn't won the Vezina every year. It's important for Vasilevskiy to stay healthy for the Lightning's success, however, with Elliott being behind him, it gives the Lightning a safety cushion just in case the star netminder goes down.
Why They Won't
We touched on the losses of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow already earlier in the article. Those three players made up the entirety of the third line for the Lightning the last two seasons. Allowing the Lightning to have the best depth in the NHL. They were an integral part to the Lightning win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Most recently the trio put up 11 goals and 24 points in 23 playoff games and a big reason the Lightning beat the Canadiens. It severely impacts the depth of the Lightning, which has set Tampa Bay apart the last couple seasons. While they did replace those players with NHL caliber players, Perry simply won't replace the offensive output that Gourde put up for example.
It's sad when you can only muster one point to argue against them not winning again. It is a testament to how dominant the Lightning have been in the past two years and how effortless they make defeating opponents. It truly feels like the Lightning haven't been tested. The only other team in the NHL that can truthfully match up with the Lightning's skill level in my opinion is the Colorado Avalanche and even they are a question mark. Will Darcy Kuemper be a big enough addition for them to get over the hump and challenge this Lightning squad?
One thing is for certain, for the third season in a row, the Stanley Cup will likely go through Tampa Bay.
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