The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Coach: Jon Cooper (10th season)
Last season: 36-17-3; third in Discover Central Division, won Stanley Cup
1. Another quick turnaround
The Lightning won the Stanley Cup for a second straight season with a 1-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on July 7. It was 282 days after they won the Stanley Cup on Sept. 28, 2020 with a 2-0 win against the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the Final. Winning back-to-back championships comes with a price: The Lightning have played the most games and have had the fewest days off of any team since the NHL restarted the 2019-20 season after pausing because of the coronavirus. Their ability to manage rest and recovery this season, especially in the first few months, will go a long way toward determining how ready they are at making a run at a third straight championship.
2. Replacing bottom-six forward depth
Recreating what the Lightning lost on their third line will be a challenge. They signed forwards Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to replace some of the lost depth. They will rely heavily on Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph. Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, who made up the Lightning’s third line, one that regularly started games to set the tone and played a lot late in close games, all are gone. Gourde was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. The Lightning could not afford to keep Goodrow and Coleman due to the NHL salary cap. Goodrow, who could have become an unrestricted free agent on July 28, was traded to the New York Rangers on July 17 and signed with them on July 22. Coleman left as an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Calgary Flames on July 28. Tyler Johnson, a scoring threat on Tampa Bay’s fourth line, was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks.
3. Staying hungry
The Lightning have to maintain the championship drive they’ve had the past two seasons. They were motivated to win the Cup again last season because they were playing in front of their fans. They won the 2020 Cup in the Edmonton bubble with no fans. The Lightning got what they wanted by being able to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship on home ice at Amalie Arena. Their ability to play with that same burning desire to win, that win at all costs mentality, will be a storyline to follow all season and into the playoffs.
The main competition is at the bottom of the forward depth chart with Alex Barre-Boulet, Gemel Smith, Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk competing for one opening. The Lightning could keep two of them and have one as a 13th forward.
Andrej Sustr is trying to unseat Cal Foote at the bottom of the defensemen depth chart.
Most intriguing addition
Perry signed a two-year contract with the Lightning on July 29. The forward lost to the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final the past two seasons, with Dallas in 2020 and Montreal last season. The 36-year-old still plays with a physical edge and has a scoring touch, especially around the net. He should become an important bottom-six forward.
Biggest potential surprise
Barre-Boulet could be part of the answer for the third line if he can be an effective 200-foot, 5-on-5 forward. The Lightning could have Colton and Joseph with Barre-Boulet, leaving a fourth line of Bellemare, Perry and Pat Maroon. Barre-Boulet scored three goals in 15 games last season. He has scored 136 points (69 goals, 67 assists) in 144 American Hockey League games with Syracuse.
Ready to break through
Colton should be a regular after playing every game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored the Cup-clinching goal in Game 5 against the Canadiens. It was his fourth goal of the playoffs after he scored nine in 30 regular season games. Gourde’s departure opens the door for Colton to have a bigger role.
Colton (undrafted on average in fantasy) should play a bigger role for the Lightning this season. He scored nine goals in 30 games last regular season, led Tampa Bay in goals per 60 minutes (1.63) and had more than a hit per game (36) on mostly the fourth line. Colton will likely start on the third unit but is worth drafting in deep category leagues for a stable plus/minus (plus-3 last regular season; plus-4 in Stanley Cup Playoffs) and untapped potential. — Pete Jensen
Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn — Anthony Cirelli — Steven Stamkos
Alex Barre-Boulet — Ross Colton — Mathieu Joseph
Pat Maroon — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Corey Perry
Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev — Zach Bogosian